Funeral held for ‘humble’ D-Day veteran

Ben Mitchell, PA
·3-min read

The funeral has taken place for a 97-year-old veteran who landed in Normandy on D-Day and helped build an airfield in just three days to support invading Allied troops.

Albert Lilly was born in Portsmouth in 1923 and tried to join the Army when the Second World War broke out, but was told to come back in two years because he was just 16.

When he did enrol, he joined the 16th Airfield Construction Group of the Royal Engineers, and he set sail from Lowestoft on June 4 1944 for the D-Day landing, but was left waiting in the Solent for a day because of bad weather.

He landed at 8.15am on June 6 on Gold beach and his group had built an airfield by June 9 and then had to rebuild it again by June 11 after a B24 bomber crashed on it.

A veteran lowers his standard
A veteran lowers his standard (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Standard-bearers marched ahead of the hearse as the funeral procession arrived at The Oaks Crematorium in Havant, Hampshire.

The flag of the Royal Engineers was draped over Mr Lilly’s coffin along with lily flowers and his berets from the Army and the RAF, which he served with after the war.

A message from the Danish Home Guard attached to a bouquet said: “We’ll all miss our old friend and marching mate.”

Following the service the Last Post was played as family and friends came out to inspect the floral tributes.

Albert Lilly funeral
The Last Post is played after the funeral (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Mr Lilly, who reached the rank of corporal, was later involved in the battle of Tilly-la-Campagne which changed hands between opposing forces 24 times.

His daughter Sara Lilly said her father had spoken about “liberating” a wine cellar discovered in a crater, and when questioned by a local on the disappearance of the bottles, he blamed the Germans.

He was involved in rebuilding roads across Europe and made his way to Berlin before he was eventually demobbed in 1947.

He then joined the RAF as an engineer based at Thorney Island, West Sussex, before leaving the forces to work at Channel Island Airways until it closed.

Albert Lilly funeral
Mr Lilly’s family look at flowers at The Oaks Havant Crematorium (Andrew Matthews/PA)

He went on to become a painter and decorator to enjoy the “freedom” of self-employment, and retired in his mid-70s.

Mr Lilly’s wife Kathleen died in 1975, leaving him to bring up his two daughters, Sara and Susie, as a single parent.

Ms Lilly told the PA news agency: “Dad was a very humble man who was very generous with his time and, for his generation, was a hands-on dad.”

He was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honour, on his birthday last year for his role on D-Day, and during the 75th anniversary commemorations, he met the Prince of Wales and Theresa May, and saw Donald Trump but was “not impressed”, according to his daughter.

The grandfather-of-three, and great-grandfather-of-two with a third on the way, also went to Normandy each year on a British Legion-organised cruise ship to lay a wreath at Bayeux, up until five years ago.

Ms Lilly said: “He was the VIP on the trip, he was meeting and greeting people, he was dancing and singing, he looked 10 years younger and just beamed.”