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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One of the Great Speeches by The Elephant's Child



Remember the Men of D-Day, June 6, 1944 by The Elephant's Child
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Major Werner Pluskat in his bunker overlooking Omaha Beach had heard nothing from his superiors. He was cold, tired and exasperated. He felt isolated. He couldn’t understand why there had been no reports from either regimental or division headquarters. …Once more he swung the artillery glasses over to the left, picked up the dark mass of the Cherbourg peninsula and began another slow sweep of the horizon. The same low banks of mist came into view, the same patches of shimmering moonlight, the same restless white flecked sea.Behind him in the bunker his dog Harras, was stretched out asleep. Nearby,  Captain Ludz Wilkening and Lieutenant Fritz Theen were talking quietly. Pluskat joined them. “Still nothing out there,” he told them.” I’m about to give it up. But he walked back to the aperture and stood looking out as the first streaks of light began to lighten the sky. He decided to make another routine sweep.Wearily, he swung the glasses over to the left again. Slowly he tracked across the horizon. He reached the dead center of the bay. The glasses stopped moving. Pluskat tensed, stared hard.Through the scattering thinning mist the horizon was filling with ships — ships of every size and description, ships that casually maneuvered back and forth as though they had been there for hours. There appeared to be thousands of them. Pluskat stared in frozen disbelief, speechless, moved as he had never been before in his life. At that moment the world of the good soldier Pluskat began falling apart. He says that in those first few moments he knew, calmly and surely, that “this was the end for Germany.”      Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day




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