D-Day veteran Harry Billinge dies aged 96

One of Britain’s last surviving D-Day heroes dies aged 96: WWII veteran Harry Billinge who achieved lifelong dream of creating memorial to troops who died in France and was made an MBE by Queen passes away after short illness

  • The former Royal Engineer was just 18 when he landed on Gold Beach in 1944
  • Was one of only four survivors from his unit, the 44 Royal Engineer Commandos
  • Billinge was made an MBE in 2019 after raising more than £50,000 for veterans 

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

‘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.

D-Day: Huge invasion of Europe described by Churchill as the ‘most complicated and difficult’ military operation in world history

Operation Overlord saw some 156,000 Allied troops landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

It is thought as many as 4,400 were killed in an operation Winston Churchill described as ‘undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place’.

The assault was conducted in two phases: an airborne landing of 24,000 British, American, Canadian and Free French airborne troops shortly after midnight, and an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armoured divisions on the coast of France commencing at 6.30am.

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in world history, with over 160,000 troops landing. Some 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved. 

US Army troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Normandy’s ‘Omaha’ Beach on D-Day in Colleville Sur-Mer, France June 6 1944. As infantry disembarked from the landing craft, they often found themselves on sandbars 50 to 100 yards away from the beach. To reach the beach they had to wade through water sometimes neck deep

US Army troops and crewmen aboard a Coast Guard manned LCVP approach a beach on D-Day. After the initial landing soldiers found the original plan was in tatters, with so many units mis-landed, disorganized and scattered. Most commanders had fallen or were absent, and there were few ways to communicate

A LCVP landing craft from the U.S. Coast Guard attack transport USS Samuel Chase approaches Omaha Beach. The objective was for the beach defences to be cleared within two hours of the initial landing. But stubborn German defence delayed efforts to take the beach and led to significant delays 

An LCM landing craft manned by the U.S. Coast Guard, evacuating U.S. casualties from the invasion beaches, brings them to a transport for treatment. An accurate figure for casualties incurred by V Corps at Omaha on 6 June is not known; sources vary between 2,000 and over 5,000 killed, wounded, and missing

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in world history, with over 160,000 troops landing. Some 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved.

The landings took place along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

The assault was chaotic with boats arriving at the wrong point and others getting into difficulties in the water.

Destruction in the northern French town of Carentan after the invasion in June 1944

Forward 14/45 guns of the US Navy battleship USS Nevada fire on positions ashore during the D-Day landings on Utah Beach. The only artillery support for the troops making these tentative advances was from the navy. Finding targets difficult to spot, and in fear of hitting their own troops, the big guns of the battleships and cruisers concentrated fire on the flanks of the beaches

The US Navy minesweeper USS Tide sinks after striking a mine, while its crew are assisted by patrol torpedo boat PT-509 and minesweeper USS Pheasant. When another ship attempted to tow the damaged ship to the beach, the strain broke her in two and she sank only minutes after the last survivors had been taken off

A US Army medic moves along a narrow strip of Omaha Beach administering first aid to men wounded in the Normandy landing on D-Day in Collville Sur-Mer. On D-Day, dozens of medics went into battle on the beaches of Normandy, usually without a weapon. Not only did the number of wounded exceed expectations, but the means to evacuate them did not exist

Troops managed only to gain a small foothold on the beach – but they built on their initial breakthrough in the coming days and a harbor was opened at Omaha.

They met strong resistance from the German forces who were stationed at strongpoints along the coastline.

Approximately 10,000 allies were injured or killed, including 6,603 American, of which 2,499 were fatal.

Between 4,000 and 9,000 German troops were killed – and it proved the pivotal moment of the war, in the allied forces’ favour.

The first wave of troops from the US Army takes cover under the fire of Nazi guns in 1944

Canadian soldiers study a German plan of the beach during D-Day landing operations in Normandy. Once the beachhead had been secured, Omaha became the location of one of the two Mulberry harbors, prefabricated artificial harbors towed in pieces across the English Channel and assembled just off shore

US Army Rangers show off the ladders they used to storm the cliffs which they assaulted in support of Omaha Beach landings at Pointe du Hoc. At the end of the two-day action, the initial Ranger landing force of 225 or more was reduced to about 90 fighting men

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