Sappers from 24 Commando Royal Engineers based in Devon have paid a personal tribute to one of Britain’s few surviving D-Day veterans, at a special event held in Cornwall, on the 77th anniversary of the Normandy landings.
The much-respected green berets formed a guard of honour, to welcome 96-year-old former Royal Engineer Harry Billinge MBE to Par Market near St Austell, for a special screening of the unveiling of the British Normandy Memorial, which he helped raise money for but could not attend in person.
Staff Sergeant Martin Pyle, a Permanent Staff Instructor at the Royal Marine Barracks, Chivenor has met Harry on numerous occasions, previously when a high-speed train was named in honour of the Second World War veteran, he said: “For me it was an absolute honour to be here today. Harry and the other veterans are an inspiration to all who are still serving, the sacrifices they have made for us makes me so proud.
“Harry’s a larger than life character, he never tires of telling people what he and his comrades went through. He loves meeting us and came to our reunion in 2019. It’s a mutual appreciation.”
The live outdoor screening at Par Market was organised by the BBC. The invited audience of 30 family, friends and members of the Par Veterans Breakfast Club have been passionate supporters of Harry throughout his fund-raising journey, collecting more than £50,000 for The Normandy Memorial Trust.
I thank everyone who has given a little or a lot to make this memorial possible Harry Billinge MBE
Cornishman Lance Corporal Kelvin Retallack, a bugler from the British Army Band Tidworth, performed Wings the regimental march of the Corps of Royal Engineers, at the small service for the West Country hero: “I’m from Cornwall myself and he’s a legend down here. He’s done so much in the way of building awareness of those who lost their lives at Normandy, and everyone around here absolutely adores him.
“It’s an absolute privilege and honour to be part of this. And to have this special event here in Cornwall as Harry can’t get to Normandy, it’ll mean a lot to him. It’s an amazing memorial and the work that Harry has put in to get to this day is just phenomenal.”
“Being a serviceman myself I think that anyone who has made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. How can you not honour them?”
On the 6th June 1944 at 06:30, Harry who was just 18 years of age, landed on Gold Beach Normandy during the first wave. Born in Aldgate, London he was attached to no 4 Commando, his objective was to capture a radar station at Arrogances, of the 10 men in his sub unit only 4 of his colleagues survived the day.
Over the years Harry wanted to ensure a permanent structure was erected to remember his fallen comrade. He personally raised thousands towards the memorial which bears a roll of honour listing the names of all 22,442 service personnel who died under British command on D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.
The British Normandy Memorial, designed by architect Liam O’Connor, cost nearly £30m and was funded by the British government and private benefactors and stands on a hillside overlooking 'Gold Beach.'