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News Archive > General > FULL STEAM AHEAD HARRY!

FULL STEAM AHEAD HARRY!

By Natasha Swift 7th October 2020

FULL STEAM AHEAD HARRY!
Harry Billinge collecting for the Normandy Memorial

ONE OF Britain’s last surviving D-Day veterans and St Austell’s WWII hero, Harry Billinge, is to have a train named in his honour today.

Earlier this year Great Western Railway (GWR) revealed it would be marking 75 years since the end of World War II by naming seven of its Intercity Express Trains after remarkable people involved in the conflict.

St Austell’s Harry Billinge MBE was one of the first soldiers to land on ‘Gold’ beach at 0630 on 6 June 1944 as part of the D-Day landings.

St Austell’s Harry Billinge MBE was one of the first soldiers to land on ‘Gold’ beach at 6.30am on June 6, 1944 as part of the D-Day landings.

A Sapper with a Royal Engineers’ Commando unit, Harry was one of only four to survive from his unit.

He went on to fight in Caen and the Falaise Pocket in Normandy. He was awarded an MBE in the 2020 New Year Honours List for his fundraising efforts in St Austell for the Normandy Memorial Trust.

His name will feature on Intercity Express Train number 802006 and form the 1015 service from Penzance to London Paddington following a special ceremony, which is due to take place at Penzance station today.

GWR said those being honoured represented the armed forces, the intelligence services and the world of politics, and this remembered the sacrifice, bravery and tenacity that helped defeat Nazism.

Harry said: “I am thrilled that this train is being named after me, but this is about remembering the fine men who fought that day, lots of whom never went back home again.

“It’s important that their memory is remembered, and I hope this train will carry that message to thousands of people every day.”

Johnny Mercer MP, Minister for Defence People and Veterans, said: “Harry’s an inspiration and a daily reminder of that incredible generation.

“We can never say thank you enough for the privileges and freedom we enjoy today because of your sacrifices 75 years ago.”

GWR Engineering Director Simon Green said: “We are honoured to be naming one of our Intercity Express Trains after Harry Billinge MBE, who undoubtedly took part in one of the most important battles of World War Two.

“We at Great Western have a long history of naming trains after Great Westerners the past and present heroes from across our network. “It is right that we honour some of those heroes of the war effort, remembering the sacrifice, bravery and tenacity that later generations owe so much to.”

Alongside Harry, others who will have an Intercity Express Train named after them include wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill, Wing Commander Ken Rees from Wales, a Wellington Bomber pilot who was

imprisoned in Stalag Luft III and played a vital part in the Great Escape, and Alan Turing from London, who led Hut 8 at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, responsible for the breaking of German ciphers.

In a busy week for the veteran, Harry also made it onto the shortlist for a Pride of Britain 2020 award after committing his life to serving charities to honour his fallen comrades.

Harry, 95, gripped the heart of the nation on the 75th anniversary of D-Day in 2019 when he appeared on national TV with his harrowing story.

The dad-of-three was just 18 when he arrived on Gold Beach at 6.30am on June 6, 1944 as part of the first wave of soldiers to land.

Many of his friends were killed in the conflict and humble Harry has been committed to serving charities to honour those in the decades since.

He was chair of the Cornwall branch of the Normandy Veterans' Association, President of the Royal Engineers Association and he collected for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal for 64 years, but, in 2018, he turned his support to The Normandy Memorial Trust.

Most notable as a D-Day veteran is his exceptional contribution and passionate commitment to raise funds for the British Normandy Memorial, which commemorates the fallen under British Command during the Battle of Normandy.

Harry has made it his mission to support the Normandy Memorial Trust, visiting the site of the Memorial above Gold Beach where he landed in 1944.

In June last year a campaign was launched to get Harry a knighthood after he left viewers in tears during an interview with BBC Breakfast about the D-Day landings.

The former Sapper told the BBC he was no hero, but one of the lucky ones who had survived.

He spoke about his friend who died during the landings, saying: “All the heroes are dead and I'll never forget them as long as I live.”

Harry has raised £22,442 - the same number of men who perished in the summer of 1944 - for the Normandy Memorial Trust by collecting donations in St Austell and at Par Market come rain or shine.

They have since established 'Harry's Army', which encourages people inspired by Harry to also fundraise.

BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker called Harry an “amazing man”. Earlier this year he was awarded an MBE in the 2020 New Year honours list after being recognised for his services to Charitable Fundraising.

Each year a search is launched for a local Fundraiser of the Year as part of the national Daily Mirror Pride of Britain awards. Harry was one of four finalists in the West Country selected from the many nominations that were received for the South West of the region.

But it was Voice co-founder, Chrissie Jackson, who was named Pride of Britain Fundraiser of the Year for the West Country.

Chrissie was diagnosed with terminal cancer in January last year and has raised more than £40,000 for different charities after launching Chrissie’s Sunrise Appeal.

Chrissie is now through the national finals. Michael Traboulsi from The Normandy Memorial Trust said Harry has personally helped raise more than £50,000 for them.

He said: “But at the end of the day, if you ask him why he is fundraising for the British Normandy Memorial, he will tell you he is doing it for his mates."

By Natasha Swift 7th October 2020

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