Two iconic women from the Second World War, one British and one South African; both famed for singing to troops on quaysides, Dame Vera Lynn on the left and Perla Siedle Gibson (known to the troops as “The Lady in White”) on the right.
This photo was taken in and around the M.O.T.H. Headquarters in Durban (Warrior’s Gate) and in the centre is Harold William (Nobby) Clarke who was a Custodian of Warrior’s Gate.
Dame Vera Lynn, DBE (born Vera Margaret Welch on 20 March 1917), was widely known as “The Forces’ Sweetheart” is an English singer, songwriter and actress whose musical recordings and performances were enormously popular during the Second World War. During the war she toured Egypt, India and Burma, giving outdoor concerts for the troops. The songs most associated with her are “We’ll Meet Again”, “The White Cliffs of Dover”, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and “There’ll Always Be an England”.
She remained popular after the war, appearing on radio and television in the UK and the United States and recording such hits as “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart” and her UK Number one single “My Son, My Son”.
In 2009 she became the oldest living artist to make it to No. 1 on the British album chart, at the age of 92. She has devoted much time and energy to charity work connected with ex-servicemen, disabled children and breast cancer. She is still held in great affection by veterans of the Second World War and in 2000 was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the twentieth century.
Perla Siedle Gibson was a South African soprano and artist who became internationally celebrated during the Second World War as the Lady in White, when she sang troopships in and out of Durban harbour.
Gibson was born in Durban in 1888. In the early twentieth century she studied music and art in Europe and the US and gave recitals in London and New York. Her youngest brother was Jack Siedle, the South African Test cricketer.
During World War 2 Durban was an extremely busy way station for convoys of ships en route to the fronts in North Africa and the Far East. Gibson became famous among thousands of Allied troops when she serenaded them as their ships passed in and out.
She went on to sing to more than 5,000 ships and a total of about a quarter of a million Allied servicemen. Clad in white with a red hat, she would stand at a spot at the mouth of Durban Bay where ships entering and leaving the harbour pass quite close, and sing patriotic and sentimental songs through a megaphone from a torpedoed ship, which grateful British soldiers had given her.
She died in 1971, shortly before her 83rd birthday. The year later a bronze plaque donated by men of the Royal Navy was erected to her memory on Durban’s North Pier on the spot where she used to sing. In 1995 Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a statue of Perla Gibson near the Ocean Terminal in Durban harbour.
Travers Barrett Photographer copyright and grateful thanks to Kevin Lamprecht for sharing his Grandfather’s photograph and memories.
Story for the SA Legion by Peter Dickens