Private Thomas Wilson Billington
Unit : Headquarters Company, 8th Parachute Battalion
Service No. : 6354301
In 1988, a small memorial was erected by the side of a road outside Touffreville, commemorating the murder of Private Arthur Platt on the 6th June 1944. It was said that he had been shot on this spot together with another man, whose identity was unknown at that time but was later established as Private Tom Billington, and in 1993 the plaque was duly amended.
On the morning after their deaths, local inhabitants discovered their bodies, face down in the hedgerow with a gunshot wound to the back of the head. In the days which followed their remains were removed, presumably by the Germans, and possibly on the 10th June when the 51st Highland Division began to establish itself in the area. It is said that this may have been an attempt to disguise the crime, but what is certain is that Platt's body was later found in a field some two miles away, Billington may also have been interred here but was not found. It has been speculated that his grave may have been destroyed during the heavy shelling of the area which preceded Operation Goodwood on the 18th July 1944.
It must be stressed, however, that no formal identification of the two bodies ever took place, nor do we know whether Platt's remains displayed any signs consistent with such an execution. Yet, whether it be from statements by local civilians, or the convictions of their 8th Battalion comrades, the names of Platt and Billington have been firmly linked with this terrible incident.
What is known for certain is that both men were members of the 8th Battalion's Signals Platoon. They flew to Normandy from Blakehill Farm in separate aircraft of 233 Squadron; Platt was in KG 514 (Chalk number 252), Billington in FZ 668 (Chalk number 253). At 00:50 on the 6th June 1944, they jumped in the vicinity of DZ-K with the main body, but were not seen again.
The following is a statement regarding the shooting from Yveline Brunet-Langevin: "Platt and Billington were taken by the Germans on morning of landings. Mr Briard was with Mr Balliére. He had the idea to go down to Touffreville with bicycle. While going down the hill he saw two Germans, one pushing a sidecar. The other one was marching nearby with a machinegun in his hands. Two prisoners were walking in front of them with their hands in the air. Mr Briard had a bad feeling about this, he let them walk to the Chemin des Rougettes, where now the monument is. Papa went to the same place later on and saw at Rougettes two soldiers with a hole in their heads."
This is a letter written by Pte. R. Johnson 5125809, who was in the same aircraft as Billington: "In answer to your letter regarding No.6534301. Pte. T.W. Billington, No.14410209. Pte A.H. Warner [a passenger in Billington's Dakota, KIA 06/06/44] 8th Para Regt A.A.C. missing from operations in Western Europe on 6.6.44. The last I saw of both men was in the air-craft before making our descent. After being taken prisoner I was told by a sergeant in RENNES P.O.W. Camp that Pte Billington had been killed in Normandy. This sergeant, I don't know his name, had Pte Billington's identity disk, of Pte Warner I neither saw or heard any more."
John Lunt, who served in the Signals Platoon and was friends with Tom Billington, wrote the following to John Lewis Platt, Arthur's son, on the 14th March 1992: "The last time I saw Arthur was on either 4th or 5th June 1944 when we had a brief natter over a cup of tea in the NAAFI. I became a casualty on 16th June and, up to that time, had heard nothing of Arthur or of many other members of the company. In October 1944 I was on leave from hospital and visited a pub called The Lamp in Birmingham where I discovered several lads out of the Signals Platoon. I think one of them was Fred Collett who you have met although I can't remember what he would have been doing in Brum. Another of them was a lad called Green and it was he, supported by the others, who told me what had happened to Arthur and Bill Billington, also Signals and well known to me. When Jimmy James asked for information I replied by repeating the above. The information seems to have been substantially correct although I must admit that Fred Collett seems a bit vague about the meeting I describe (it was about 45 years after when I raised it with him). Sorry I can't help more. I rather wish I could show that Arthur and Bill died differently; I can well imagine their last moments."
John Lunt wrote again on the 24th September 1994: "You wrote some very nice things about the help you claim I gave you in your search for the truth. In fact I was only conscious of responding to the original enquiry from Jimmy James and then almost everything I had to write was hearsay remembered over 40 odd years. Of course I was able to pass on my personal memories of Arthur and perhaps I am the only one who would remember that he came to the para from the Worcesters. Incidentally, on Monday last I had quite a long conversation with a lad named Ron Green... I mentioned Arthur's name to Ron and he reminded me (and I had completely forgotten it but now remember it to be true) that Arthur's nickname was "Aristotle", a tribute I think to his education and intelligence...Tom [Billington] and I were friends, comrades and occasional boozing companions but (and you know the army) not bosom buddies. I knew little or nothing of his life outside the army anymore than he knew anything of mine."
An investigation by John Lewis Platt and Dr Tony Leake, the 8th Battalion historian, revealed that the men responsible for the murders may have come from a detachment of 6 Kompanie, 125 Panzergrenadier Regiment, who were stationed in Touffreville on the 6th June. The Regimental Commander was Colonel Hans von Luck, and on the 9th June 1993, John met him at the Café Gondrée beside Pegasus Bridge and presented his research to him. The Colonel agreed that 6 Kompanie were based in Touffreville on the 6th June, but would not accept that his men had committed murder. When asked about Hitler's infamous Commando order, which instructed that all captured parachutists and saboteurs be shot, the Colonel denied any knowledge of the order and stated that he had never issued such instructions to his company commanders. Having been presented with the evidence of witnesses to the shooting, Colonel von Luck expressed his regret and said that it could have been the consequence of an over-reaction from one of his men, and that they could have mistaken the paratroopers for saboteurs. Prisoners had been taken that night, he cited the medical officer of the 8th Battalion, but said that it was a most difficult situation for his men with parachutists dropping all around them.
The full facts of the incident will never be known, and it may never be irrefutably established that Platt and Billington were indeed the two men involved. Yet both of these young men certainly met their end on the 6th June 1944. The remains of Arthur Platt were reinterred in the Ranville Cemetery in September 1945, whilst Tom Billington is remembered on the Bayeux Memorial along with all those others who have no known grave. Each year a short ceremony is held at their memorial in Touffreville, and is attended by veterans, family, friends and the villagers. We will remember them.
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