In WWI popular music had the power to bind people together on the face a common enemy, to buck them up in the face of defeat, and to encourage them to be strong, loyal, and brave, even when they didn't much feel that way. Some of the more popular songs were patriotic, but the best loved ones simply were those that appealed to the heart.
In October 1940, two American songwriters from New York, composer Walter Kent and lyricist Nat Burton, penned a song called They'll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs of Dover. The song was originally written with a war-torn, war-weary Britain in mind, as is evident in the first two verses:
I'll never forget the people I met
Braving those angry skies
I remember well as the shadows fell
The light of hope in their eyes
And though I'm far away
I still can hear them say
But when the dawn comes up
They'll be bluebirds over
Just you wait and see
It was a favorite in Britain right from the start. And why wouldn't it be? The white cliffs of Dover had always been a welcome home symbol to weary travelers crossing the English Channel, but now that there was a war on, it became an icon, especially for those pilots in the RAF. Once the United States entered the war, The White Cliffs of Dover began to appeal to Americans as much as it did to the British
By the week ending January 2, 1942, Miller's version was replaced by Kay Kyser and his orchestra, also in 10th place, although it was in 2nd place on the Your Hit Parade chart as of January 3, 1942. The song stayed on the top 10 charts for a number of months, with the weekly favorite swinging between Miller and Kyser.
Singer Kate Smith also recorded The White Cliffs of Dover early on, but her version didn't show up on the national charts until the week ending February 7, 1942, when she placed in 9th place to Miller's 10th place. Other recordings were made by Bing Crosby, Guy Lombardo, Bebe Daniels, Rose Marie, and Tommy Tucker, all with varying popularity.
In Britain, a 23 year old singer from London named Vera Lynn also recorded The White Cliffs of Dover. It was immensely popular, giving Lynn her first commercial success, although she is probably more well known for her iconic recording of We'll Meet Again in 1942. The version I have included above is the one by Vera Lynn. I chose that because this in the one I heard growing up when my Welsh father was waxing nostalgic for his homeland years after the war ended. It is also the version that still occasionally runs through my head.
The White Cliffs of Dover remained a favorite all through the war, frequently played on the radio and was one of the most requested by the troops abroad. Of course, the song isn't without some irony, since the bluebird is an American bird, and not found in the British Isles, so it was unlikely that anyone would ever see bluebirds flying over the white cliffs of Dover heralding peace. Luckily for us, peace did come eventually, anyway.
The white cliffs of Dover may have been a icon of home for British and American pilots, but they were also a beacon for Luftwaffe pilots. Sadly, the cliffs were bombed during the war and badly damaged, though they are still pretty incredible.