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Stories of the UK’s World War II Disappearing Generation

LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II’s death is a reminder that the Second World War generation is aging. Like the queen, even the war’s youngest veterans are approaching their 100th birthdays, and a steady stream of obituaries tells the story of a disappearing generation.

Here are the stories of a few veterans who died this year.

HENNIETT HANOTTE:

August 10, 1920 to February 19, 2022

Henriette Hanotte began her wartime career bringing Allied pilots to safety almost by accident.

On May 23, 1940, as British forces retreated towards Dunkirk, two soldiers asked her parents for help to cross the Belgian border as they tried to find their way back to England. Hanotte, then 20 years old, volunteered to take them to the French city of Lille, about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) away.

That chance encounter brought her to the attention of British agents, who then asked her to join the network of resistance fighters guiding downed Allied pilots across the country. Belgium, France and Spain arrived in Gibraltar safely.

Hanotte is particularly valuable to the activity, known as the Comet Route, because she grew up traveling between her home in Rumes, on the Belgian side of the border, and the nearby French town of Bachy, where she studied. music. This gave her insight into the border and helped her guide her “packet” to safety.

“She knows the border like the back of her hand, the patrol schedule, the customs officers, the lanes, the barking of the dogs, the habits of the neighborhood,” according to a brochure of her exploits produced by Rumes. and Bachy published.

Known by the codename Monique, she is credited with helping 135 pilots get to safety before she was forced to flee to England to avoid capture by the Gestapo. There, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service and trained as a secret agent but was prevented from returning to Europe when she broke her leg during skydiving training.

“I was trying to protect my family, and they were trying to protect me,” Hanotte told the Times of London last year on her 100th birthday. “It’s our natural instinct to help.”

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FLIGHT LT. DOUGLAS NEWHAM:

November 13, 1921-March 14, 2022

Douglas Newham survived 60 bombing raids as a Royal Air Force navigator from 1942 to 1945, but he was haunted for the rest of his life by people who were not. return.

Some 55,573 people who flew with Bomber Command during World War II – 44% of the crew – perished in action, the highest attrition rate of any Allied unit.

For Newham, that meant losing his friends in the group of seven, the standard crew of the Halifax bombers he flew in the later stages of the war.

“In my dark moments now, I still remember coming back tired from a trip that took perhaps 10 hours… and maybe a plane or two is still missing and you hope that there is maybe they’ll land somewhere for fuel, or they’ll take damage in battle and they’ll be together later,” he told the BBC in 2020. And, of course, then they won’t come. “

When the war began, Newham was a teenage postal engineer trainee who helped install early warning radars and repair radar stations damaged by German bombers.

In 1941, he joined the RAF. On his first combat tour, Newham dropped mines in U-boat lanes and carried out bombing raids on occupied Europe before being dispatched to North Africa. Returning to England, he received advanced training then returned to combat duty, serving as a navigational commander for several squadrons in several large-scale raids into Germany.

One night on the English Channel, he realized the responsibility he was assigned.

“My captain said, “Doug, come back here… lift your head up the astrological dome and look back,” Newham told the International Bomber Command Center in 2017. “And of course, there are 350 bloody planes following me. I do not want to know! “

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SAPPER HARRY INVOICE:

September 15, 1925-April 5, 2022

Harry Billinge and his comrades had a single mission when they landed on Yellow Beach at 6:30 a.m. on D-Day: capture the German radar station at Arromanches.

They succeeded, but only 4 out of 10 people in the unit survived the day.

“It was hell,” Billinge said in an interview recorded by the British Normandy Memorial Trust. “I have never seen anything like it in my life. You let ships shoot over your head and you got shot by the Germans from the land – the 88mm guns they used, would blow you off the face of the Earth. “

Billinge that day was an 18-year-old army commando. After surviving the war, the young man moved from London to Cornwall, where he became a barber.

He rejected the idea of ​​himself as a hero, always shifting his focus to those who died on June 6, 1944.

In his later years, Billinge dedicated himself to raising funds for the British Normandy Monument in France, even as age forced him to do so from a cushy chair at the local market. In 2020, Queen Elizabeth II pinned a Member of the Most Distinguished Order of the British Empire, or MBE, to Billinge’s lapel after he raised £50,000 ($57,500) for the project. judgment.

“It means more to me than life itself, knowing that I am doing all I can for the memorial and my friends – 22,442 men who died on that beach,” he said. .

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SIGNALLER FRANK BAUGH:

November 26, 1923-June 20, 2022

Frank Baugh was an 18-year-old coal worker when he joined the Royal Navy in 1942. Two years later, he was a crew member on an amphibious ship carrying 200 soldiers that fought on D-Day.

As the ship approached Sword Beach in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, it was hit by a direct hit. The soldiers were able to run to shore, but the landing craft was stuck for hours as the crew carried out emergency repairs under enemy fire.

“We couldn’t get out of the beach,” Baugh said in a 2018 interview. “We were flooded, we couldn’t afford to go to the beach, so we sat there in a very awkward situation. It’s not where you want to go. “

Baugh said he and his teammates were able to survive thanks to two parts of luck. The front troops killed German soldiers guarding a beach fort right in front of the beachhead, and a naval destroyer placed a smokescreen to shield Baugh’s boat from gunfire at the head. the other side of the beach.

With repairs done, Baugh and his shipmates returned to their boats and headed back out to sea to pick up another load of soldiers.

He is believed to be the last living British marine to see the British Royal Navy white rank raised on Sword Beach as allied forces advance.

“The men and women of the Royal Navy today cherish the relationships they have with those who served in World War II, and Frank’s remarkable longevity is testament to a good life. beautiful to serve her country,” said 1st Navy Admiral Sir Ben Key in a eulogy read at Baugh’s funeral.

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