‘We will never forget’: Harry’s final mission accomplished
D-Day veteran Harry Billinge. Picture Paul Williams
19th May 2021
By Natasha Swift
St Austell D-Day veteran Harry Billinge has completed his “final mission” after single-handedly raising tens of thousands of pounds to help turn the British Normandy Memorial into a reality.
The memorial will be officially unveiled in France on June 6, 2021, the 77th anniversary of D-Day.
Harry, who was in the first wave of troops to land on Gold Beach in Normandy in 1944, has raised more than £50,000 for the project, which he described as his final mission.
The British Normandy Memorial, designed by British architect Liam O’Connor, records the names of the 22,442 servicemen and women under British command who fell on D-Day and during the Battle of Normandy in the summer of 1944.
Inscribed in stone, their names have never, until now, been brought together.
The official opening of the memorial is the culmination of nearly six years of work by the Normandy Memorial Trust.
Costing nearly £30m and funded both by the British government and private benefactors, the memorial stands on a hillside overlooking “Gold Beach”, one of three beaches where British forces landed on the morning of June 6, 1944 to begin the liberation of Western Europe.
Many of Harry’s friends were killed in the conflict and he has been committed to serving charities to honour their memories in the decades since.
He was chair 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.
In 2018, he turned his support to The Normandy Memorial Trust.
Harry has made it his mission to support the Trust, visiting the site of the memorial above Gold Beach where he landed in 1944.
He has spent years fund-raising in all weathers and more recently has dedicated three days a week to collecting at Par Market.
The 95-year-old originally hoped to raise £1 for every soldier who lost their life during D-Day and in the Battle of Normandy.
But he quickly hit that target and has kept on going.
Harry told the Voice: “I’m a bit upset that I cannot be there, but I have achieved what I set out to do.
“I’m still collecting for the Normandy Memorial as it still needs to be maintained.
“I’m very grateful to all the people who have donated to this memorial which means all the poor blokes who never came back will be remembered.
“I cannot forget and I never will.
“I have raised more than £50,000, collecting personally with my tin, for the memorial.
“I want to thank all the kind people who have donated coins up to £20 notes. They filled my tin up.”
Harry is unable to travel to Normandy for the official opening of the British Normandy Memorial on June 6 due to covid.
Last year, Harry was awarded an MBE in the 2020 New Year honours list after being recognised for his services to charitable fund-raising.
The construction of a national memorial in Normandy has been a long-held ambition of Normandy Veterans, frustrated that Britain alone among the main wartime allies did not have such a memorial.
The Normandy Memorial Trust’s founder, the broadcaster Nicholas Witchell, said: “It is a matter of the greatest pride to the entire Trust team to have turned the dream of so many Normandy Veterans into a reality.
“This memorial will stand as a permanent reminder to future generations of the sacrifice made by British forces in Normandy in the summer of 1944. As one of the inscriptions on the Memorial states: ‘They died so that Europe might be free’.”
The Trust’s Normandy Veteran Patron, George Batts MBE, Leg d’Hon, said: “Only those who were there on D-Day can truly know what it was like. We lost a lot of our mates on those beaches. Now, at long last, Britain has a fitting memorial to them. I should like to express my deep gratitude to all those who’ve supported the Memorial.”