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Dame Vera Lynn's charity work honoured by Eastry widow Grace Wray on centenary

By Eleanor Perkins

An Eastry widow has remembered the times she and her late husband had the privilege of meeting wartime singer Dame Vera Lynn, who turns 100 today.

Grace Wray, of Orchard Road, and Bill, who died five years ago, invited the singer to Canterbury in the mid 1990s to help boost a veteran’s fundraising campaign.

They also met her at a Royal British Legion dinner in Maidstone.

Grace and Bill Wray from Eastry (left) with Dame Vera Lynn at Royal British Legion dinner

Mrs Wray, 94, said: “We met her three or four times and she was charming. She’s a very natural lady. My husband adored her.”

Mr Wray served in the 43rd Wessex regiment of the Royal Artillery for seven years from the age of 17.

He fought in the Normandy campaign in France and at Arnhem in the Netherlands.

His last task before returning to Britain was taking part in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. He was part of one of the first British batallions to enter the concentration camp in April 1945, helping to release the 60,000 starving and mortally ill people who were packed together without food, water or basic sanitation.

In his later years, he became the treasurer of the East Kent branch of the Arnhem Veterans. It was then that he saw an article in a national newspaper showing a young Nepalese man giving his grandfather a piggy-back to ease the trek to the nearest hut to collect his meagre pension for serving in the First World War. This was his only income and the trek was made every week.

Grace Wray, 94, from Eastry, with a picture of her late husband Bill with Dame Vera Lynn

It pulled on Mr Wray’s heartstrings, prompting him to help in some way.

Mrs Wray, now a great-great grandmother, said: “Bill saw it and said to the others, ‘Time to start collecting again lads!’

“The branch had done many collections and fundraising for their pilgrimages back to Holland over the years, as well as raising money for Cancer Research among others.”

The men and their wives held coffee mornings, quizzes and social gatherings but their biggest boost came when Forces’ Sweetheart Dame Vera joined the veterans from Deal, Dover and Sandwich for a fundraising event at Asda in Canterbury.

Mr Wray had called her daughter and agent, inviting her to attend.

Dame Vera Lynn with veterans including the late Bill Wray from Eastry (behind her left shoulder) outside Asda in Canterbury

Mrs Wray said: “She talked to people and stayed a little while. She was willing to sign autographs and tell stories of her trips with Ensa abroad to boost the moral of the troops.

“And it boosted their boxes very, very much.”

The couple’s fondness towards Dame Vera led Mrs Wray to have We’ll Meet Again, one of the singer’s best known songs, inscribed on her husband’s headstone.

Mrs Wray is still in contact with wives and widows Amy Kiddel, Barbara Bushall, Polly Hadley and Ethel Langley, who she says were equally involved in the fundraising. And she is keen to hear from other wives, widows, relatives and friends of the Arnhem Veterans.

To get in touch, call her on 01304 619243.

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