Another fine Steyn music post, about a song I always did like.
Not when she sang, though. It’s not a creamy voice, like GI Jo Stafford’s. There’s something rawer in there, and in those early records a very real emotional clutch. The sound of Britain at war is Vera Lynn singing, whether “There’ll Always Be And England” or “We’ll Meet Again”. And, with either number, despite the notorious British antipathy to audience participation, she never had to cajole the Tommies or anybody else into joining in.
On that rather strained luncheon with Princess Margaret, Dame Vera seemed a delightfully near parodic embodiment of Englishness. (She sent back the avocado with the words, “This foreign food disagrees with me.”) Afterwards, we had a little chat about her songs. “They still like ‘We’ll Meet Again’,” she said (I seem to recall a couple of laddish telly pop stars had just had a Number One cover version with it). “But ‘There’ll Always Be An England’ is what they call ‘controversial’,” she added, lowering her voice, lest someone might overhear.
By “controversial”, she meant that the very concept of “England” was now officially discouraged. “There’ll Always Be An England” is conspicuous by its absence on her 100th birthday album and her other hit CDs of this century. With one of her two signature songs all but banned from the airwaves, the survivor was imbued with a kind of pathos it had never had during the lowest moments of the Second World War. It came to symbolize simultaneously both Britain’s wartime defiance and a resigned acceptance of remorseless decline. To me, Dame Vera’s original near-eight-decade-old recording sounds sadder with every passing year.
We’ll Meet Again
Don’t know where, don’t know when
But I know We’ll Meet Again
Some sunny day.
Will we? You can see what Dame Vera means about the “controversial” nature of “There’ll Always Be An England” at the Blairite website set up after the 2005 Tube bombings. Its object was to try to identify British “icons” around which a roiled nation could unite. In the comments responding to “There’ll Always Be…”, a reader who identifies himself as Alex rages that the song is “an appallingly syrupy anthem to petty nationalism and ‘little Englanders’. Haven’t two world wars shown us that nationalism is a scourge, a hangover from the tribal groupings of the Dark Ages? I’m a citizen of a united Europe, and proud to be so.” On the other hand, Margaret Stringfellow says, “The EU is hell bent on destroying England as a country, by replacing England by the Regions. There will not always be an England unless the English people wake up.”
I’ve mentioned it here before, and I’ve searched and searched for it over the years and never have been able to find it, but I distinctly remember a quote from some Englishter, a government official of some type, not long after 9/11 that I thought was piercing indeed. Asked by a reporter if our Cousins across the pond remained able to respond forcefully to such hideous aggression, the guy pointed out that it was the wrong question; the truly relevant question, he said, was “whether England remained England.”
Depressing, innit? But all prospective cracks from me about “Londonistan” aside, who knows; perhaps the same stark division we’ve seen here between the iniquitous multiculti surrender-monkey derangement in our urban areas and the stouter, sterner, more sensible mindset prevalent in flyover country will yet hold true in England. They—and we—had better hope so, at least.
But perhaps not; Steyn just about puts paid to it with his closer:
On November 25th 1941, off the coast of Alexandria, HMS Barham was torpedoed by a German U-boat during a visit to the battleship by Vice-Admiral Henry Pridham-Wippell. The ship lurched to its port side, the commanding officer was killed, and the vice-admiral found himself treading oil-perfumed water surrounded by the ship’s men and far from rafts. To keep their morale up, he led them in a rendition of “There’ll Always Be An England”. The 31,000-ton Barham sank in less than four minutes, the largest British warship destroyed by a U-boat in the course of the war. But 449 of its crew of 1,311 survived.
“There’ll Always Be An England” was written for that England.
It’s different now.
Lots of things are, to our great detriment. We’ve lost much, and thrown away even more. It remains to be seen whether we retain enough to bring us back from the brink of disaster and destruction. Personally, I have some small hope. But I have to admit it probably ain’t the way to bet.