Last year I made a memorable on The Endcliffe Park Memorial in Sheffield & the incredible devotion of Tony Foulds.
Recently a D-Day veteran who raised more than £25,000 towards the cost of building a national memorial honouring his fallen comrades has become an MBE. Incredibly despite having a key role in the Normandy landings, there has never been a British D-Day memorial until now.
Harry Billinge, 94, said he was accepting the honour in memory of the “fellas that never came back”. He was presented with the honour by the Queen during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, surely one of the few occasions the Queen will still meet anyone of a similar age.
Mr Billinge from St Austell, Cornwall was an 18-year-old Royal Engineer when he landed on Gold Beach at 6.30am on June 6 1944 as part of the first wave of troops.
“It was hell on earth. Murder. The sea was red with blood, human blood,” he said.
Mr Billinge, who has dedicated much of his life to fundraising, said the memory of the servicemen killed during D-Day had “never left him”.
“I never expected any medal for collecting a few pounds, or a thousand pounds for the boys that never came back,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“All I set out to do, I achieved and I’m still doing it.”
Speaking after the ceremony, Mr Billinge said it was “wonderful” to meet the Queen.
“She was very, very kind. There are no words to describe it.”
The veteran, who also holds France’s highest award, the Legion d’Honneur, is well-known for his charity work in Cornwall, where he has collected for the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal for more than 60 years.
In June 2019 he travelled to Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
He went to see the unveiling of the first foundation stones of a memorial to remember those who served in the British forces during the war.
“I’m 94 and I only did what I did for the boys. I’m no brave man and I’m just an ordinary sapper, Royal Engineer Commando. I did my job and I didn’t want any glory. There’s no glory in war. Nobody should have got off the beaches at D-Day and I was lucky. I’ll never forget any of the blokes I was with – 22,442 were killed and it’s very difficult for me to talk about that. They were marvellous men, some just 16. What a waste of life, terrible.”
Discussing the MBE, Mr Billinge said “It’s overwhelmed me to be honest. I’m 94 and it’s a bit late in life to be recognised. I am very grateful for any kindness bestowed upon me. I am choked beyond measure to think I have got an MBE. I don’t deserve it.”