Harry Billinge: Hundreds gather in streets to pay respects to late D-Day veteran in Cornwall

·2-min read

Hundreds have gathered in the streets for the funeral of late D-Day veteran Harry Billinge in Cornwall today.

The coffin for Mr Billinge, who died aged 96 earlier this month, was carried through his home town of St Austell before a church service at St Paul's in Charlestown.

Mr Billinge was 18 when he became one of the first British soldiers to land on Gold Beach during the Normandy invasion in 1944.

A sapper, also known as a combat engineer, he was part of the Royal Engineer Commandos and was one of only four survivors from his unit.

The funeral procession travelled past the war memorial cross outside Holy Trinity Church in St Austell, followed by a guard of honour which included standard bearers and a Requiem Mass at St Paul's.

'I'm not a hero, I'm lucky'

Mr Billinge was appointed an MBE in 2020 after raising more than £50,000 to build a national memorial honouring his fallen comrades - the 22,442 servicemen who died on D-Day and during the Battle of Normandy.

Just a year earlier, Mr Billinge told journalists: "I'm not a hero, I'm lucky. All the heroes are dead and I'll never forget them."

Speaking on behalf of the family, Margot Billinge, one of his daughters, described Harry as a "loving husband" who always looked after their mum Sheila.

"He was steadfast in his love for her," she said. "As a dad, he taught us great values: kindness, generosity, and not to judge."

During the hour-long service, which was led by Revd Canon Malcolm Bowers, a eulogy was read by Nicholas Witchell, journalist and founding trustee of the Normandy Memorial Trust.

Singer and TV presenter Aled Jones sang Let There be Peace on Earth during the service, a song he recorded with Mr Billinge.

Items adorning the late veteran's coffin included a bible, cross, poppy wreath, his Royal Engineers beret and a Union Jack pillow displaying his medals.

Hundreds flooded the streets to pay their respects and the service was also live-streamed to a community centre with 120 seats and aired on speakers outside the church.

Mr Billinge grew up in Kent, but later moved to Cornwall.

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

The veteran married his wife Sheila in 1954 and has three children, Sally, Margot and Christopher, as well as grand daughters Amy and Claire.

Six months ago, on 26th October, Mr Billinge was able to visit Normandy to see a memorial for fallen British soldiers.

In a tribute on Monday, his family urged those wanting to honour Harry to become guardians of the Normandy Memorial.

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