One of Britain’s last surviving D-Day veterans has died aged 96 after a short illness, his family has said.
Former Royal Engineer Harry Billinge, who lived in St Austell in Cornwall, was just 18 when he was one of the first British soldiers to land on Gold Beach in 1944 during the Second World War.
He was a sapper attached to the 44 Royal Engineer Commandos and was one of only four survivors from his unit. Mr Billinge later fought in Caen and the Falaise pocket in Normandy.
Mr Billinge is survived by his wife Shelia, two daughters Sally and Margot, his son Christopher and granddaughters Amy and Claire.
Mr and Mrs Billinge were married for 67 years and were due to celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary in August.
His daughter Sally Billinge-Shandley said: ‘He was a man that always gave his word, his word was solid. He always fought for what he believed in.
‘The passion he had for all the veterans that lost their lives was unwavering.
‘How he dedicated his life to making sure that was never forgotten, that’s how he’ll be remembered.
‘The memorial for the Normandy veterans just became part of him; it was just a huge part of his life. Some of his last words were, “Love one another.”’
D-Day veteran Harry Billinge (pictured left with his medals while fundraising in St Austell, Cornwall) has died aged 96 after a short illness, his family has said. The former Royal Engineer, who lived in St Austell in Cornwall, was just 18 when he was one of the first British soldiers to land on Gold Beach in 1944 during the Second World War
Mr Billinge was made an MBE in 2019 for charitable fundraising after collecting more than £50,000 for veterans.
A year later, he said he was ‘deeply moved’ after a Great Western Railway (GWR) Intercity Express train was named after him to mark 75 years since the end of the Second World War.
GWR managing director Mark Hopwood said: ‘We’re so sad to hear about the passing of our dear friend, Harry Billinge MBE.
‘It was our absolute honour to name one of our trains after him in October 2020 and we will never forget the impact he had on so many.
‘Intercity Express Train 802006 provides a lasting tribute to Harry and those thousands of lives lost during the Normandy landings in 1944.’
Bilinge was a sapper attached to the 44 Royal Engineer Commandos and was one of only four survivors from his unit. Above: Billinge during his return to Gold Beach in Normandy in 2018
Speaking from his home after being mde an MBE in 2019, Mr Billinge, who also held France’s highest award, the Legion d’Honneur, said: ‘I’m 94 and I only did what I did for the boys.
‘I’m no brave man and I’m just an ordinary sapper, Royal Engineer Commando.
‘I did my job and I didn’t want any glory. There’s no glory in war.
‘Nobody should have got off the beaches at D-Day and I was lucky.
‘I’ll never forget any of the blokes I was with – 22,442 were killed and it’s very difficult for me to talk about that.’
Discussing the MBE, Mr Billinge had said: ‘It’s overwhelmed me to be honest. I’m 94 and it’s a bit late in life to be recognised.
Mr Billinge went on to raise more than £50,000 for veterans’ charities. Above: Mr Billinge fundraising in St Austell, Cornwall
Mr Billinge is pictured shaking the hand of the Queen on the day that he was made an MBE in 2018
Harry Billinge from St Austell is made an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II during an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace in Londo
Mr Billinge later fought in Caen and the Falaise pocket in Normandy. Pictured: Mr Billinge in Normandy
Mr Billinge memorably brought BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty to tears when he spoke of the men who were lost in Normandy
Harry Billinge is seen with his medals and a poppy wreath at the Charlestown Harbour in Cornwall in 2020
Mr Billinge often wore his medals during public appearances. He was chairman of the Cornwall branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association, president of the Royal Engineers Association and collected for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal for 64 years
Mr Billinge was made an MBE in 2019. He is pictured above displaying his honour after receiving it in 2020
‘I am very grateful for any kindness bestowed upon me. I am choked beyond measure to think I have got an MBE. I don’t deserve it.
‘When I get it, it won’t be for me, it will be for the 22,442 blokes killed on D-Day. That’s what its all about. They were marvellous men, some just 16.
‘What a waste of life, terrible.’
As well as his work to remember the fallen on D-Day, Mr Billinge for many years undertook charity work in Cornwall.
He was chairman of the Cornwall branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association, president of the Royal Engineers Association and collected for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal for 64 years.
According to the Normandy Memorial Trust, on D-Day and the subsequent battle for Normandy, 22,442 servicemen and women died under British command.