Family of late D-Day veteran Harry Billinge urge well-wishers to be guardians

·3-min read

The family of the late D-Day veteran Harry Billinge is urging those wishing to pay their respects to become guardians of the British Normandy Memorial.

Mr Billinge, who died earlier this month aged 96 after a short illness, was just 18 when he was one of the first British soldiers to land on Gold Beach in 1944.

He was a sapper attached to the 44 Royal Engineer Commandos and one of only four survivors from his unit. He later fought in Caen and the Falaise pocket in Normandy.

The former Royal Engineer was awarded an MBE after collecting more than £50,000 towards a memorial for the 22,442 service personnel killed on D-Day and during the Battle of Normandy.

Harry Billinge in his younger days and in uniform
Mr Billinge was 18 when fought during D-Day on June 6 1944 (Family handout/PA)

His family, friends and other veterans are gathering in his hometown on Tuesday in St Austell in Cornwall for his funeral, which is being held at St Paul’s Church in Charlestown.

Margot Billinge, one of Mr Billinge’s daughters, said on behalf of the family: “Harry was a very loving husband who always looked after mum. He was steadfast in his love for her.

“As a dad, he taught us great values: honesty, kindness, generosity and not to judge.

“Dad was always there to guide us. He was always a very charitable man and collected for the Poppy Appeal for over 65 years.

“When he got the brochure about the British Normandy Memorial in the post, he felt compelled to start collecting. In his efforts to raise money for the memorial, he found great peace.

“The original idea was to collect £1 for each of his comrades that died on the beaches – 22,442. But, of course, it amounted to much more than that. It gave him a purpose; meeting with members of the public kept him going.

Harry Billinge fundraising in St Austell High Street in Cornwall
Harry Billinge fundraising in St Austell High Street in Cornwall (Normandy Memorial Trust/PA)

“In an interview with the BBC a few years ago on Remembrance Sunday, I recall him saying he just wanted to be remembered as ‘a good old sapper who did his best’.

“He also said, ‘I hope I shall live in the hearts of people who won’t forget Harry’.

“Harry wanted future generations to never forget his comrades who fell in Normandy. If members of the public would like to pay their respects to Harry, we ask that they become guardians of the British Normandy Memorial.

“We would very much like the work towards the Memorial and the education centre to continue in Harry’s name.”

Mr Billinge grew up in Petts Wood in Kent but had been in Cornwall for 70 years after being advised to leave London for a better quality of life.

He set up shop as a barber and became president of the local clubs for the Royal British Legion and Royal Engineers.

Mr Billinge is survived by his wife Sheila, daughters Sally and Margot, 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.