D-Day 80: The most poignant wartime songs

6 June 2024, 11:45

Wartime songs: Bing Crosby, Vera Lynn, Doris Day
Wartime songs: Bing Crosby, Vera Lynn, Doris Day. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

As the world commemorates the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, we remember the music that helped to bring comfort amid the horrors of the Second World War.

From Vera Lynn to Doris Day, here are some of the most beautiful songs and jazz standards which found widespread popularity in a time of war.

Read more: D-Day – 10 pieces of classical music to mark the 80th anniversary

  1. ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’

    Published in 1938, ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ became one of the most popular songs around the time of the Second World War. In an era of uncertainty and grief, its soothing sounds and nostalgic words resonated with people. Have a listen to it through the warm, undulating tones of Billie Holiday.

    Billie Holiday - I'll Be Seeing You (1944)

  2. ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’

    Composed by Harold Arlen for the movie The Wizard of Oz (1939), Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ gained a new poignancy during the war. Judy Garland performed it live for American troops in 1943, and a special recording with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra was released and sent to soldiers, as a promise of better days to come.

    JUDY GARLAND at 21 singing OVER THE RAINBOW remastered audio

  3. ‘White Cliffs of Dover’

    Most famously sung by Vera Lynn, ‘White Cliffs of Dover’ is a song yearning for peace in a time of war. Lynn’s voice, with the promise of ‘love and laughter’ and ‘peace ever after’, vows that in a time of darkness, something good will eventually happen.

    Dame Vera Lynn 'The White Cliffs Of Dover' + 'We'll Meet Again' 1984

  4. ‘White Christmas’

    Bing Crosby’s old-fashioned Christmas hit found new audiences in the middle of the Second World War. Its mix of nostalgia (‘just like the ones I used to know’) with its comforting images of home (‘where the treetops glisten’) began to resonate with people. In 1942 alone, Crosby’s version spent 11 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts.

    Bing Crosby - White Christmas (1950).avi

  5. ‘Sentimental Journey’

    Its release coinciding with the end of the Second World War in Europe, this pop-jazz standard became the unofficial homecoming song for many veterans. Here it is, recorded by the late, legendary Doris Day.

    Doris Day A Sentimental Journey

  6. ‘We’ll Meet Again’

    Performed by Sheridan Smith at the 75th D-Day commemoration in Portsmouth, ‘We’ll Meet Again’ is one of the most famous songs of the World War II era. The original recording, voiced by Vera Lynn, resonated with soldiers going to war as well as those praying for them at home.

    D-Day anniversary: Singer Sheridan Smith performs "We’ll Meet Again"

  7. ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’

    Written in 1939 about a particularly leafy square in Mayfair, London, its romantic lyrics and feelings of nostalgia made ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ a natural wartime favourite. On 10 July 2005, at a national celebration of the 60th anniversary of the ending of the Second World War, the song was sung live to millions in central London, including a number of veterans.

    Vera Lynn - A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square 1940

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