Harry Billinge: Hundreds at funeral of D-Day veteran – BBC


Hundreds have lined the streets for the funeral of Harry Billinge, one of the first British soldiers to storm Gold Beach during the Normandy landings.
Mr Billinge's coffin was taken though his hometown of St Austell in Cornwall before a church service in Charlestown.
The D-Day veteran was 96 when he died on 5 April following a short illness.
Mr Billinge, a former Royal Engineer, was just 18 when he landed on the beach at Normandy in 1944. He was one of only four from his unit to survive.
Margot Billinge, one of his 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."
Mr Billinge spent more than 60 years collecting for the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal.
He helped raise more than £50,000 for the British Normandy Memorial and would make annual pilgrimages to the cemeteries of northern France.
Appointed an MBE in 2020 for his fundraising work, he dedicated it to the 22,442 service personnel killed on D-Day and during the Battle for Normandy.
In 2019 Mr Billinge said on BBC Breakfast: "I'm no hero, I was lucky, I'm here. All the heroes are dead and I'll never forget them."
Ms Billinge said: "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 funeral procession travelled through St Austell and past the war memorial cross at Holy Trinity Church with mourners gathered along the route.
It then moved to Charlestown where a guard of honour lined the street outside the church and standard bearers were in attendance.
Hundreds of people have turned out for the funeral on this sunny day in Harry Billinge's home town in Cornwall.
He had a special place in people's hearts.
He was admired for his life of service and the incredible fundraising that helped create the British Normandy memorial.
Family, veterans in uniform and friends turned out in force to remember a man who did so much to ensure his fallen comrades would never be forgotten.
The church was full to capacity and the church hall set up with seats for 150 people to watch the service via a live video link.
Speakers were also set up outside the church and people lined the street to listen to the requiem mass service.
The hour-long service started at 11:00 BST, led by The Revd Canon Malcolm Bowers.
Let There Be Peace on Earth, a song that singer and TV presenter Aled Jones recorded with Mr Billinge in 2020, was played during the service.
A eulogy was read by BBC journalist Nicholas Witchell who is a founding trustee of the Normandy Memorial Trust.
Mr Witchell described Mr Billinge as a "wisp of a man with a winning smile" and spoke of his "selfless commitment to honour his friends".
He said Mr Billinge arrived back from the war with "mental scars" and was appalled to see the events unfolding in Ukraine.
"'War is a terrible thing' he said, and he knew just how terrible."
Items adorning Mr Billinge's coffin included a bible, cross, poppy wreath, his picture, his Royal Engineers beret and a Union Jack pillow displaying his medals.
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."
Clint Osborne was Mr Billinge's barber and was in St Austell when the procession passed through.
He said: "Harry was a very proud man. Every time I saw him he always talked about the men he was on Gold Beach with… I'll miss him."
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.
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