American Elephants


Piper Bill Millin Pipes the Invasion Forces Ashore on Sword Beach 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, 2010 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. 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.



Do Little Boys Play Army Anymore? by The Elephant's Child

Remembering D-Day, June 6, 1944. Here are 42 pictures from D-Day, many that I have never seen before, that were published on Boston.com on June 7, 2010. The unavoidable and inevitable invasion of fortress Europe was successful at enormous cost. It was 68 years ago, and far beyond the memory of most people alive today, and it slips further and further into a dusty category of remote stories. We concentrate our memories on just one of the invasion beaches — bloody Omaha, but it was not the only one.

It was an enormous undertaking, and there was no guarantee of success. Some of these pictures are familiar, many are not.  Give a thought to those desperate days, and be sure that you and your children and grandchildren know what happened. It changed the world and is still changing it today, or did you think the crisis in Europe is unrelated to history?

(pics via @marychastain)



A Little History: June 6,1944 —The Longest Day. by The Elephant's Child
June 6, 2011, 6:14 am
Filed under: Europe, Freedom, History, Military | Tags: , , , ,

“Believe me, Lang, the first twenty-four hours of the invasion will be decisive…the fate of Germany depends on the outcome…for the Allies, as well as Germany, it will be the longest day.”
—Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
to his aide, April 22, 1944

“The most difficult and complicated operation ever to take place.”
—Winston Churchill

“The history  of war does not know of an undertaking comparable to it for breadth of conception, grandeur of scale, and mastery of execution.”
Joseph Stalin

“Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Order of the Day, June 4, 1944

“The destruction of the enemy’s landing is the sole decisive factor in the whole conduct of the war and hence in its final results.”
Adolf Hitler

“In this column I want to tell you what the opening of the second front entailed, so that you can know and appreciate and forever be humbly grateful to those both dead and alive who did it for you.”
Ernie Pyle, June 12, 1944

Victory Parade, 82nd Airborne, New York City.  January, 1946

It was all sixty-five years ago today.  Ancient history to many, but a day never to be forgotten, and remembered with gratitude.

Sharp eyes will notice that at the time the German film was made, they weren’t too sure just where the Allies had landed. They still hadn’t given up on the idea of Calais. They used a lot of stock footage to make it seem as if they really were in control of things.




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