Great Western Railway (GWR) has honoured one of Britain’s last surviving D-Day veterans, Harry Billinge MBE, by naming a train after him..
Now 95, Harry was one of the first soldiers to land on ‘Gold’ beach at 06:30 on 6 June 1944 as part of the D-Day landings. He was a sapper attached to the 44 Royal Engineer Commandos and 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.
Harry, 95 and from St Austell, said: “I’ve been deeply moved today. Having a train named after me is a great honour. It will remind people of 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.”
General The Lord Dannatt, Trustee of the Normandy Memorial Trust said: “Everyone at the Trust warmly congratulates Harry on the naming of a train in his honour. We are so proud of Harry and grateful for all his remarkable fundraising efforts for the Memorial and everything he has done to raise the profile of the Trust.”
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 is marking 75 years since the end of World War Two by naming seven of its Intercity Express Trains after remarkable people involved in the conflict. Harry’s name now features on Intercity Express Train number 802006, which went on to form the 10:15 service from Penzance to London Paddington after the ceremony.
GWR engineering director Simon Green said: “We are honoured to name 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.”
As well as Harry Billinge, the other six people to be honoured by GWR are:
- Odette Hallowes, a French citizen who lived in London and on the Devon/Somerset border. She became a Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the most highly decorated spy of the war.
- Wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill, widely considered one of the 20th century’s most influential figures.
- 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
- 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
- Cpl George Sheard from Plymouth, one of the famous ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ – a group of young Royal Marines who volunteered for hazardous service planting mines on enemy ships
- Tul Bahadur Pun VC of the 3rd Battalion of the Gurkha Rifles, one of only 13 Gurkha’s to receive the Victoria Cross.