When the Lights Go On Again

Composed November 19, 2020

Dame Vera Margaret (née Welch) Lynn was a British singer, songwriter, and actress whose recordings and performances were immensely popular during the Second World War, especially with those in uniform. Widely admired and held dear as the Forces’ Sweetheart, she delivered outdoor concerts for Allied troops in Egypt, India, and Burma. The songs closely associated with her include We’ll Meet Again, The White Cliffs of Dover, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, There’ll Always Be an England, and When the Lights Go On Again (All Over the World).

As reported in The New York Times, her ballads “touched the hearts and lifted the spirits of Britons from the bomb-blitzed streets of London and Coventry to the sands of North Africa and the jungles of Burma.”

After the war, as her career continued to flourish through radio and a new medium, television, she undertook considerable charitable works on behalf of ex-service personnel, disabled children, and those afflicted with cerebral palsy and breast cancer.

In 2009, at the age of 92, Vera Lynn became the oldest living artist to top the U.K. Albums Chart with the retrospective album We’ll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn. In 2017, at the age of one hundred, she released Vera Lynn 100 – and became the first centenarian entertainer to score a top ten in the charts. Along the way, she was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the 20th century.

Vera Lynn died on Thursday, June 18, 2020, at the age of one hundred three. Her BBC News obituary that day included the following passage:

By the time the 75th anniversary of VE Day approached, the impression made by Dame Vera’s songs and contribution was shown to be as deep as ever. The UK was facing another crisis – and a virus, rather than a foreign army, was the foe this time. In a televised address in April, the Queen evoked Dame Vera’s wartime message, assuring families and friends who were separated during the coronavirus pandemic: “We will meet again.”

In this, the twenty-seventh and final installment of Book One of Confessions of a Conscript, we celebrate the spirit of unbent optimism and can-do resoluteness exemplified by the lifelong good works and inspiring words of Dame Vera as we, too, muster the energy, grit, and courage to face and vanquish a pernicious enemy, the COVID-19 coronavirus.

For eight months and counting, we have dwelled in a universe unmoored from that which we had occupied before and, perhaps, unwittingly taken for granted. With social distancing and other protocols of safety and security undertaken either voluntarily or subject to governmental regulations, gone or significantly abridged have been such day-to-day interpersonal activities as dining out with friends and family, participation in cultural, entertainment, and sporting events, formal classroom education, and on and on and on.

We have had to learn how to make do with pale substitutions, or none at all, for plain everyday yet exceptionally fulfilling fundamental intimacies such as hugs and the kiss on the cheek of a grandchild. Zoom and Facetime and the like, while splendid to have during the drought of togetherness, are arm’s-length and two-dimensional.

Back in January, there was no crystal ball or soothsayer to warn that what was coming was coming. How mundane it was to awaken on a weekday morning, consider the day’s agenda or lack thereof over an idling cup of coffee or tea, and then say what the heck and scoot over to the local bridge club for another go at the deck of fifty-two. How rare and precious that now seems – has seemed for the better part of the year – to have had the privilege and luxury to play a round in person, face-to-face, with snack bowls of carbs and sweet treats laid out to fuel the grey cells in the bargain.

Perspective informs us that disruptions of one’s participation in avocational and recreational pursuits, either actively or as spectator, pale in comparison with travails endured by people who have been and are directly and indirectly affected by the pandemic. Struggles with issues of health, welfare, and sheer survival transcend everything else.

Still, we also recognize that for tens of thousands of devotees and dabblers, the game of bridge is integral to interconnectedness – to a kind of a nurturing which feeds the hunger for healthy camaraderie, sharpens the wits, and provides platforms for travel, learning, socializing, and contributing to community.

In that regard, while in the midst and throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been shafts of sustaining sunlight as we await the blossoming of full-blown freedom from its grip. We have been the beneficiaries of singular vision, creativity, energy, and dedication on the part of those who responded with urgency and enthusiasm in devising and delivering to our alternative universe the means and methods with which to continue to engage in the exhilarating, frustrating, joyful, maddening, ever-evolving, never-ending game of bridge.

Thank you, management and staff of the American Contract Bridge League, Bridge Bulletin, and Bridge Base Online. Thank you, Matthew L. Ginsberg, for GIB (Ginsberg Intelligent Bridge Player), our periodic robotic partner in ACBL’s online daylong sessions.

Thank you, local clubs, for staying the course while operating at a loss, thereby enabling your membership to continue to meet in the abstract, sometimes via Zoom for a soupçon of verisimilitude, as collectively we await the day when ‘the new normal’ will be a true, three-dimensional reality instead of a flat virtual one, allowing us to spend time in one another’s company securely free of worry.

When that day comes, the scientifically validated ridding of the tyranny of our pernicious enemy, let us spill out into the streets and bask in the glow, celebrating the epochal event with unbridled gusto and tears of joy comparable to spontaneous outpourings worldwide in the immediate wake of VE Day and VJ Day three generations ago.

On May 8, commemorating the diamond anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe), Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins performed a ‘virtual duet’ with Dame Vera, who said on the occasion: “I’ll never forget how We’ll Meet Again meant so much to all those soldiers going off to war, as well as with their families and sweethearts. Seventy-five years since the end of the war in Europe, the virus has given those lyrics a whole new meaning.” To an empty Royal Albert Hall and to a worldwide BBC audience, their voices pealed with hope:

We’ll meet again … don’t know where … don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.
Keep smiling through, just like you always do,
‘Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away.
So will you please say hello to the folks that I know:
Tell them I won’t be long.
They’ll be happy to know that as you saw me go,
I was singing this song:
We’ll meet again … don’t know where … don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.

Here is a link to a version of that stirring duet featuring folks like you and me and our loved ones cheerfully calling for the advent of that sunny someday:

Please stay tuned for the first installment of Book Two of Confessions of a Conscript, as and when that day comes and the lights go on again – all over the world.

All the best,

Gordon and Jo Ann Prager