SO what would have been sung and danced along to at VE Day street parties?

It was reported that in some places in the North-East, gramophone players were rigged up to amplification systems to play the latest hit records, and the songs that were top of the pops in 1945 included:

  • AcCent-Tchu-Ate the Positive, by Johnny Mercer
  • Sentimental Journey, by Les Brown with Doris Day
  • Rum and Coca-Cola, by The Andrews Sisters
  • There! I've Said It Again, by Vaughn Monroe
  • Chickery Chick, by Sammy Kaye
  • I Can't Begin to Tell You, by Bing Crosby
  • It's Been a Long, Long Time, by Harry James, also a version by Bing Crosby
  • My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time, by Les Brown
  • On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe, by Johnny Mercer
  • Till the End of Time, by Perry Como

Plus, of course, there were the wartime classics.

Lilli Marlene was probably the Second World War's biggest song, if only because both sides called it their own.

It belonged to the Germans first. Two soldiers on the Russian front wrote it in 1915, but it was not until the Germans invaded Yugoslavia in 1940 that it became a hit. An army only travels with a few discs, and so one of those played repeatedly on captured Radio Belgrade was Lilli Marlene.

From there, a version by Lale Anderson (who, ironically, was anti-Nazi) was taken up by the Deutches Afrika Korps.

The Northern Echo: Marlene Dietrich, actor and singerMarlene Dietrich, actor and singer

In 1942, the British Eighth Army in Africa heard it and took it prisoner. Tommie Connor hurriedly recorded it, but it really hit the right note when Marlene Dietrich, another anti-Nazi German singer, added it to her repertoire in 1943:

Underneath the lantern by the barrack gate,

Darling I remember the way you used to wait,

'Twas there that you whispered tenderly,

That you loved me, You'd always be,

My Lili of the lamplight,

My own Lili Marlene.

The Allies most popular song was probably Roll Out the Barrel, which was the Second World War's equivalent of a previous generation's Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag. Properly called The Beer Barrel Polka, it was a good knees-up without any pretensions towards patriotism, ideology or sentimentality. With its reference to "the blues", it even had a nod towards the Americans.

Roll out the barrel - we'll have a barrel of fun.

Roll out the barrel - we've got the blues on the run.

Zing! Boom! Tararre! Ring out a song of good cheer.

Now's the time to roll the barrel - for the gang's all here.

But the all-time wartime great was, of course, Vera Lynn, the Forces’ Sweetheart whose 30-minute wireless show, Sincerely Yours, went out on Sundays after the nine o'clock news. It began in 1941, the darkest time of the war, and in it, Vera sent messages of love to soldiers serving overseas from their folks at home.

She toured Egypt, India and Burma, entertaining the troops, and at home, she also performed at munitions factories.

She did a popular version of Lili Marlene, but her biggest hit was probably the White Cliffs of Dover, which she recorded in 1942:

There'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover

Tomorrow, just you wait and see

There'll be love and laughter and peace ever after

Tomorrow when the world is free.

The shepherd will tend his sheep,

The valley will bloom again,

And Jimmy will go to sleep In his own little room again.

There'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover

Tomorrow, just you wait and see.

Her signature tune was We’ll Meet Again, which she recorded in 1939 and appeared in the 1943 musical movie of the same name. With its mournfully defiant lyrics, it captured the steely resolve of the British people that someday, somehow they would pull through the crisis and meet again on the other side – that same message has made it popular once more in 2020:

We'll meet again

Don't know where

Don't know when

But I know we'll meet again some sunny day

Keep smilin' 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.