ROBERT HARDMAN: On the morning of D-Day, Harry Billinge was a teenage soldier approaching the beaches of Normandy. Of his ten-man unit, only four survived, so it’s fitting he has dedicated his MBE to the men who never returned
Exactly six months from today, he will see his greatest wish come true when he watches the unveiling of the tribute to the 22,442 men and women who never came home.
But yesterday, D-Day veteran Harry Billinge was the one being honoured as he met the Queen at Buckingham Palace and received the MBE for his tireless work on behalf of the Normandy Memorial to the liberators of Europe.
Meeting the monarch, he said, had left him ‘overwhelmed’ but also hugely proud on behalf his fallen comrades.
Mr Billinge, 94, from St Austell, Cornwall, has been one of a group of veterans who have spent more than five years campaigning for a memorial to all members of the British Armed Forces who were killed on D-Day and in the subsequent three-month Battle of Normandy through the summer of 1944.
D-Day veteran Harry Billinge met the Queen at Buckingham Palace and received the MBE for his tireless work on behalf of the Normandy Memorial to the liberators of Europe
Uniquely among the Allies, Britain is the only country without a national memorial on French soil.
Following last year’s victorious campaign by the Daily Mail and its generous readers, that omission will be corrected later this year when the spectacular Normandy Memorial is opened.
Yesterday the Queen congratulated Mr Billinge on the achievement and asked him about the unveiling on September 4.
‘You’re going over there, are you?’ she asked him.
‘If I’m still alive,’ he replied cheerfully.
The Queen also noted that Mr Billinge had been discharged from the Forces through injury.
‘I see you’ve got the King’s Badge,’ she said, looking at the badge on his lapel, a silver badge for civilian wear which showed that the wearer was a veteran.
Mr Billinge confirmed that it was indeed. He said afterwards: ‘He was a good bloke, King George VI, and it meant everything to meet his daughter.
Meeting the monarch, he said, had left him ‘overwhelmed’ but also hugely proud on behalf his fallen comrades
Mr Billinge, 94, from St Austell, Cornwall, has been one of a group of veterans who have spent more than five years campaigning for a memorial to all members of the British Armed Forces who were killed on D-Day and in the subsequent three-month Battle of Normandy
‘I told her the MBE wasn’t for me but for all them poor devils who never came back.’
On the morning of D-Day itself, Mr Billinge was a teenage member of a Royal Engineers unit charged with demolishing a German radar station near Arromanches.
Of his ten-man unit, only four of them survived. To this day, he can still rattle off the names of the others in his sleep.
In advance of yesterday’s ceremony, Mr Billinge and his wife, Sheila, had been guests of honour at 24 Commando Regiment Royal Engineers over the weekend.
Pictured: Mr Billinge aged 18 before he fought during D-Day
They were then driven to the Palace yesterday in a Bentley belonging to Falklands veteran and ex-Royal Engineer commando, Dan Newbold.
‘It’s been the most marvellous day. I’ve never known anything like it in my life,’ said Mr Billinge before being taken to a celebratory lunch with the Normandy Memorial Trust, which is still raising vital funds for landscaping and maintenance of the 50-acre memorial site overlooking the landing beaches at Ver-Sur-Mer.
Among those who were also recognised at yesterday’s investiture were actress Wendy Craig, 85, who said she has no plans to stop working in entertainment as she received her CBE from the Queen.
The great-grandmother is best known for her role as Ria Parkinson in the Carla Lane sitcom Butterflies, which aired on BBC2 from 1978 to 1983.
Novelist Rose Tremain, 76, was also made a dame for her services to writing. Her novels and short stories have been published worldwide in 27 countries, and have won various awards including the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2008 for her book The Road Home.
Donations for the Normandy Memorial can be made via www.normandymemorialtrust.org or cheques sent to The Normandy Memorial Trust, c/o The Secretary, 56 Warwick Square, London SW1V 2AJ.
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