D-Day veteran Harry Billinge dies aged 96, his daughter confirms

Harry Billinge in 2018 returning to Gold Beach where he landed on D-Day in 1944
Harry Billinge in 2018 returning to Gold Beach where he landed on D-Day in 1944

The former Royal Engineer was 18 when he was one of the first British soldiers to land on Gold Beach in 1944

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D-Day veteran Harry Billinge has died aged 96 after a short illness, his family has said.

The former Royal Engineer from St Austell, Cornwall was just 18 when he was one of the first British soldiers to land on Gold Beach in 1944.

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.

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.

D-Day veteran Harry Billinge with his MBE
D-Day veteran Harry Billinge with his MBE

“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.’”

Mr Billinge spent more than 60 years collecting donations for the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal.

In March 2019, he was appointed an MBE after he raised over £25,000 to help fund the building of a national memorial honouring his deceased comrades.

Harry Billinge in 2018 returning to Gold Beach where he landed on D-Day in 1944
Harry Billinge in 2018 returning to Gold Beach where he landed on D-Day in 1944

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.”

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.

The veteran also holds France's highest award, the Legion d'Honneur.