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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree December 2017 > The First World War’s Dame Vera?

The First World War’s Dame Vera?

Keith Gregson looks at the wartime career of singer Hetty King

Snippets of war

Winifred Emms was the stage name of Cheshire-born Hetty King. Like Dame Vera Lynn in the following generation, she was the ‘forces’ favourite’ but her act was very different. She came from a theatrical background and was 17 at the time of the 1901 Census when she described herself as an ‘actress’. Her act differed from Dame Vera’s inasmuch as she tended to dress in male costume when entertaining the troops with song. One of her most requested pieces was a compendium of songs the soldiers sang while on the march or in the trenches – with the words ‘tidied up’ of course. In the collection of sheet music that my late father left, two feature Hetty on their covers. On one she is in a sailor’s uniform and the song inside is titled ‘Take Me Back to Home Sweet Home”. The first line ‘There’s a homeland over the sea’ sets the scene as she sings of ‘mother and dear old dad’ in their little ‘cottage’. In the one featured in the photograph she is a Scottish soldier ready to march off to war singing ‘Goodbye, Jenny’. With phrases in the song such as ‘braw bright moonlight night’ and hearing ‘the pipers calling’ it is clear that the soldier’s Jenny also comes from north of the border. The ‘French lasses’ were ‘nice’ he/she chants but (wisely) not a patch on Jenny! Both these songs were published in 1917. Hetty was a real ‘trouper’ in every sense of the word and kept entertaining into old age. She died in 1972.

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Come on, it's time to roll up your sleeves, leave the pleasant pastures of the 19th century, the birth, marriage and death records, and the census - and trace your family lines further back in into the past. This is your chance to explore new records, stretch your research and revel in the lives and times of your Georgian, Stuart and even Tudor ancestors.
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