Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Radio voice of my childhood

A month before I was born, on 24 September 1940, the Nazis had started to bomb British factories, aerodromes and communication links. Then they got around to daily raids on cities such as Liverpool and London. As a young child at Waterview in South Grafton, I must have been immersed in the wartime radio broadcasts, because the voice of Vera Lynn and the words and music of her songs are as vivid in my mind today as if I had just been lulled for the first time by their soft tones and rhythms.

It's amazing for me to learn that the grand old lady is alive and well today. On March 20, she'll be 92.

Maybe it's because of the following song that countless Australians of my generation learned that the English Channel was bordered by tall white chalk cliffs. Those of us who have problems in trying to imagine blue-feathered birds in the English sky must understand that Vera Lynn's symbolic "bluebirds" above the English Channel were in fact Spitfire fighter aircraft.

The haunting refrain of Vera Lynn's following song—no doubt her greatest success—was a prayer for the safe return of soldiers:

The great English cities were blacked out at night so that Nazi bombers would not be able to find them. The bombs, too, must have cut off the electricity in many places. So, the image of awaiting the return of the lights is both a metaphor of peace and a reality.

I'm surprised at times to realize that, although I was a child out in the Antipodes, the events and the spirit of this harsh period appear to have marked me.

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