Harry Billinge: Dan Walker and Sally Nugent pay tribute
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The war hero was one of the first British soldiers to storm Gold Beach during the Normandy landings in 1944. Mr Billinge’s coffin was taken through his hometown of St Austell in Cornwall before a church service in Charlestown, where hundreds turned out to pay their respects.
Mr Billinge was 96 when he died on 5 April after a brief illness.
The former Royal Engineer was just 18 years old when he landed on the beach in Normandy in 1944. He was one of only four from his unit to survive.
He later fought in Caen and the Falaise pocket in Normandy.
Mr Billinge went on to raise tens of thousands of pounds for military charities in his late life.
One of his daughters, Margot Billinge 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.”
Ms Billinge added: “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.”
The army veteran spent over 60 years collecting for the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal.
He also helped raise more than £50,000 for the British Normandy Memorial and would make annual journeys to cemeteries of northern France.
Mr Billinge was appointed an MBE in 2020 for his fundraising work. He dedicated the honour to the 22,442 service personnel killed on D-Day and during the Battle for Normandy.
Speaking to the BBC in 2019, Mr Billinge said: “I’m no hero, I was lucky, I’m here. All the heroes are dead and I’ll never forget them.”
Mourners lined the streets of St Austell on Tuesday as the funeral procession travelled through the town and past the war memorial at Holy Trinity Church.
It then travelled to Charlestown, where a guard of honour lined the streets.
Family, friends and fellow veterans turned out to remember Mr Billinge.
A guard of honour lined the streets outside the church and standard bearers also attended the service.
St Paul’s Church in Charlestown was full to capacity while the nearby church hall was also set up for 150 people to watch the service via video link.
Revd Canon Bowers said: “He arranged this service only a few months ago when, I think, he realised his health was failing.
“He faced death with the same bravery he showed on the Normandy beaches.”
Andy Duff, a friend who used to drive Mr Billinge, said: “He was one of my best mates even though he was a lot older than me.
“There are not many people in life you will miss for a long time, but I will miss him all right.”
The BBC’s Nicholas Witchell, a founding trustee of the Normandy Memorial Trust, told the service how D-Day had a “profound” effect on Mr Billinge, who he described as a “wisp of a man with a winning smile”.
He spoke of his “selfless commitment to honour his friends”.
Mr Witchell said: “Harry knew the reality – war is a terrible thing. He knew just how terrible. He was determined to discharge his final duty to friends and colleagues who never came home from the battlefield. The duty to remember.”
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 of Sally and Margot, son Christopher and granddaughters Amy and Claire.
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