American Elephants


June 6, 1944. D-Day. Piper Bill Millin Pipes the Invasion Forces Ashore. by The Elephant's Child

Bill Millin, Lord Lovat’s personal piper, is pictured here ready to jump from the ramp of the landing craft into the icy water of Sword beach on June 6, D–Day, 1944.  Lord Lovat is thigh-deep in the water just to the left of Bill Millin’s arm.  As the Telegraph obituary says: “As the Cameron tartan of his kilt floated to the surface he struck up with Hieland Laddie.  He continued to pipe even as the man behind him was hit, dropped into the sea and sank.”

Millin said “I was so relieved of getting off that boat after all night being violently sick.  When I finished, Lovat asked for another tune.  Well, when I looked round — the noise and people lying about shouting and the smoke, the crump of mortars, I said to myself  “Well, you must be joking surely.” He said “What was that?” and he said “Would you mind giving us a tune?” “Well, what tune would you like, Sir?” “How about The Road to the Isles?” “Now, would you want me to walk up and down, Sir?” “Yes, That would be nice.  Yes, walk up and down.”

And that’s what Bill Millin did, walked up and down the invasion beach at water’s edge, blasting out a series of tunes.  Bodies of the fallen were drifting to and fro in the surf.  Soldiers were trying to dig in and, when they heard the pipes, many of them waved and cheered — though one came up to Millin and called him “a mad bastard.”

For many soldiers, the piper provided a unique boost to morale.  “I shall never forget hearing the skirl of Bill Millin’s pipes” said One, Tom Duncan, many years later.  “It is hard to describe the impact it had.  It gave us a great lift and increased our determination.  As well as the pride we felt, it reminded us of home and why we were there fighting for our lives and those of our loved ones.”

After the Great War the War Office had banned pipers from leading soldiers into battle after losses had become too great. “Ah, but that’s the English War Office,” Lovat told Millin.  You and I are both Scottish and that doesn’t apply.”  Millin was the only piper on D-Day.

Millin died on August 17, aged 88.  He piped the invasion forces on to the shores of France, unarmed apart from the ceremonial dagger in his stocking.  The mayor of Colleville-Montgomery, a town on Sword Beach , has offered a site for a life-size statue of Millin opposite the place where he landed on D-Day.  The statue is due to be unveiled next year. His pipes are in the Scottish War Museum.

Bill Millin’s personal account of D-Day is found here, and the Telegraph’s obituary is here. Millin has been justly famous in all accounts of the D-Day invasion, especially his courageous march across Pegasus Bridge at the crossing of the Orne.  This may have been the last time that a Scottish piper led Scottish troops into battle.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I Love the sound of bagpipes

Comment by Ron spins

Me too, with my Scots heritage, but I think we’re in a distinct minority.

Comment by The Elephant's Child




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