This is a reprise of a story I wrote last August upon hearing of the passing of Bill Millin, the hero piper of D-Day. (More)
Bill Millin died at the age of 88 in Devon, England. It seems appropriate to remember him on this day of remembrance for those heroes of 67 years ago today.
Private Bill Millin is best remembered for piping the troops ashore at Normandy on D-Day. He was on Sword Beach with the 51st Highlanders, commanded by Lord Lovat. Although pipers had been used in battle for centuries, the official position of the British War Office was that the pipes were to be restricted to rear areas. The reason for the policy was that too many pipers had been killed during WW-I after the enemy figured out how much a good piper was worth in morale for the fierce Highlanders, the “Ladies From Hell.” It was said that a good piper was worth an extra five hundred men due to the morale boost for the Highland troops upon hearing the skirling of the pipes.
Lord Lovat ordered Private Bill Millin to play Hielan’ Laddie, a tune also known as Highland Laddie. Private Millin declined, reminding his commanding officer that it was against British War Office regulations. Lord Lovat replied, “Ah, but that’s the English War Office. You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn’t apply.” So Bill Millin played the ancient march as the troops waded ashore on Sword Beach. Later, he led them down the beach, piping Road to the Isles.
Bill Millin was amazed that he was not shot. Not only did he play standing up, but with his great highland bagpipes skirling over the noise of battle, he was hard to ignore. Some time later, captured German soldiers told him they did not shoot him because they thought he was just a crazy man.
In the 1962 movie, The Longest Day, Bill Millin was played by Pipe Major Leslie de Laspee, official piper to the Queen Mother at the time the film was made.
P/M de Laspee can be seen in this realistic clip from the movie. You can see a young Sean Connery, a Scotsman himself, as Private Flanagan, a trooper with the 51st Highlanders. Lord Lovat was played by Peter Lawford.
A Scottish soldier recalls the impact of hearing the skirling of Bill Millin’s pipes as he waded ashore into a hail of bullets on Sword Beach:
“…above all that, I shall never forget hearing the skirl of Bill Millin’s pipes. 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”
The pipes are the only musical instrument in the world whose sound is describes as “skirling.” There is no other instrument in the world that can match the sound of the a’ phìob mhòr, also known as the Great Highland Bagpipes.
Here is a photo of Bill Millin with his pipes, just before going ashore from the Higgins Boat.
Below is a wonderful interview with Bill Millin, along with photographs of some of the memorabilia of the “Mad Piper.”
After the invasion, Private Bill Millin continued to pipe his beloved Highlanders into battle. He piped them across the famous Pegasus Bridge, his steps reenacted by a piper shortly before the bridge was demolished in 1994. Bill Millin was at this ceremony. The piper retraced his steps, playing the same tune Private Bill Millin had played a half century before.
Here is a photo taken of Bill Millin that day, sitting in his wheelchair on the Pegasus Bridge. He holds his beloved bagpipes.
For Piper Bill Millin, the Mad Piper,
Godspeed on your journey to forever…
In Memoriam….The Highland Tattoo. Your successors carry on the tradition. These Highland musicians are battle tested soldiers themselves. Carry on….
Go mbeannaí an Tiarna uilechumhachtach is trócaireacht, an t-Athair, an Mac, agus an Spiorad Naomh muid agus go gcumhdaí siad muid. Áiméan.
Originally posted to Otteray Scribe
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