Saturday, August 21, 2010

Kilts and Bagpipes: Goodbye Bill Millin

I got this email last night from someone dear to me. We’ve had numerous exchanges about her D-Day hero grandfather and I’d heard before; the story of Bill Millin’s D-Day bagpipes being used as a play-toy. Dragged around by little children, totally unaffected…both the pipes and the kids, by the iconic majesty of said inanimate assemblage of bladder and blowsticks.

Sent: Fri, August 20, 2010 9:03:06 PM
Subject: Piper Bill Millin - Telegraph Obit
“…Bill was a good friend of my grandfather and also my mother. Mummy saw him in June and told me he wasn't very well. I was very fond of him as a child, he was the sort of man who loved children and he was great with me and my sister and cousin - he spoke good French with a strong Scottish accent!

I used to try and play his bagpipes - the ones he used on D-Day and couldn't get a single note out and he would think it was very funny!

I found out he'd died when I went to yahoo to check my email and it was the featured news story- a bit of a nasty surprised. Mummy hadn't emailed because she knew I'd be at work and didn't want to upset me….”

Millin... serenading his boys. Those who know these things say that the shrill of the pipe notes can be heard as far as ten miles away and because of it’s efficacy in rallying those troops loyal to the sound, by 1745 bagpipes were outlawed as instruments of war.
"Never has an instrument been so loved by a people and yet so feared by their enemies as the Highland bagpipes. The pipes are a symbol of strength, the salve of the soul, and the prize of Clans.”
Bill Millin must’ve had balls bigger than Texas. He piped for Lord Lovat and his fellow boys of the 1st Special Brigade when they hit Sword Beach and then piped them over Pegasus Bridge as they arrived to reinforce the Ox and Bucks. Here's Millin above, about to step off the carrier and on to Sword Beach. Millin said… "We were the first out of our troop to reach the shore. The ramps on the boat went down and as we stepped off . Lovat ordered me to play 'Highland Laddie.' I started playing as soon as I touched the water. Whenever I hear that song I remember walking through the surf.''

Here’s more…“Millin began his apparently suicidal serenade immediately upon jumping from the ramp of the landing craft into the icy water. As the Cameron tartan of his kilt floated to the surface he struck up with Hieland Laddie. He continued even as the man behind him was hit, dropped into the sea and sank.

Once ashore Millin did not run, but walked up and down the beach, blasting out a series of tunes. After Hieland Laddie, Lovat, the commander of 1st Special Service Brigade, raised his voice above the crackle of gunfire and the crump of mortar, and asked for another. Millin strode up and down the water’s edge playing The Road to the Isles.

At BĂ©nouville, where they again came under fire, the CO of 6 Commando asked Millin to play them down the main street. He suggested that Millin should run, but the piper insisted on walking and, as he played Blue Bonnets Over the Border, the commandos followed.

When they came to the crossing which later became known as Pegasus Bridge, troops on the other side signaled frantically that it was under sniper fire. Lovat ordered Millin to shoulder his bagpipes and play the commandos over. “It seemed like a very long bridge,” Millin said afterwards.

The pipes were damaged by shrapnel later that day, but remained playable. Millin was surprised not to have been shot, and he mentioned this to some Germans who had been taken prisoner.

They said that they had not shot at him because they thought he had gone off his head.”
Millin playing his pipes at Edinburgh Castle in 2001
So here’s to you Bill Millin. I’ll salute you with a Glenmorangie this weekend.



J.P. said...

Great post. I've always loved the bagpipes. I enjoyed learning a little piece of their history.

Anonymous said...

I interviewed Mr Millin late last year when it was announced that a statue of him was being erected in France, he was a lovely considerate man and will be greatly missed, I shall join your toast with a Glenfiddich.

Suburban Princess said...

Oh yes, the piper was the most important member of a regiment. I remember reading about how a piper was taken prisoner and overheard his captors' plans for when his people came to rescue him - he played the songs wrong (how would his captors know?) to alert the incoming ships that something was amiss so they left unharmed.

This is a lovely tribute.

old polo said...

Great post regarding a Great Man. I shall join your toast with the Belvenie.

Scale Worm said...

There are not not many men like this anymore (and I mean that as a general statement).
The "new" generation, those that are the children of the children of the "greatest generation", and Great Depression, are the children of entitlement in this country, that know not their own history, nor respect their peers, nor elders in their own neighborhood (I have a neighbor that was on the beaches of Normandy, one week out from the initial assault, and he goes, for the most part, ignored in my suburban setting, as does his lovely, feisty wife).
I shall toast as well to Bill with a dram or two of a lovely aged cask strength MaCallan.

Thank you ADG.

Suburban Princess said...

Oh and my granda was a Cameron Highlander too.

Anonymous said...

Let's see more sartorial posts ADG.

- M Street Big Timer

j.mosby said...

Great British Army Commando piper! I cherish and salute all of the Vets I've known that served in the British and Commonwealth countries Armies who served in WW2!

ADG said...

j.mosby...indeed. What's sad but natural and inevitable, is the fact that there are fewer and fewer of these legends still living.

M Street Big Timer...I WILL do some more posts sartorial. But come on man...let's just honor this piper for right now.

Scale Worm...I agree with you 100%

SubPrincess...I loved your story. do you have any pictures of your grand in his kit?

Old was the Belvenie?

Tabitha...I'm sure it was indeed a pleasure to spend time with this great man. Could be rumour but I've heard that more donations and pledges for the statue have come from other countries than the UK. Sad if it's true.

J.P. ... Thanks.

Suburban Princess said...

ADG - My mom has them...the next time I am at my parents' house I will see about making great-granda was a Black Watch so I am sure there is a photo of him too. I will email them to you when I get a hold of them :O)

Anonymous said...

The generation and the gentleman you highlight in this post did not blow its horn; to borrow a phrase, shut up on the pun. It took you, sir, to skip a gen and blow it for him. Damn fine. My dad was a WWII Pacific theatre hero who came home and nothing more was ever spoken. [NOTE: throughout his life, he was so damn Yale '32 trad he blows us all to bits. My brothers and I received most of his instruction on the finer details via osmosis, but he was clear on how BB shirts went to pot in his lifetime. I was partial to his J.Press shirts w/ the pocket flap.] One of his photos from way back shows him wearing vintage 30s, 40s BB as they were cut in his day, absolutely HUGE they were. I don't know what they're properly called, but the button placket ended just below the beltline, "popover" is not the right word, but that's the right description. Reading this blog reminds me of him a little and I love coming here to remember him even though his style was greatly understated as it was in that day, no sartorial noise allowed/aloud. Bless you, sir. Beautiful post.

Scott said...

Why was this man not awarded the VC? Lovat owed him a nomination, I think.

And let me put a word in for the present generation. I hate to see our splendid young service men and women (many more women than you're probably aware of) painted with such a broad brush. Right now at this minute there are thousands of American and British soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places facing extreme danger and hardship. Every day and every night. They don't do it because it's the popular thing or are compelled by a groundswell of popular opinion back home. On the contrary, their experiences are generally unknown except for the military communities in their respective countries and their own families. They do it because it's the right thing to do. To not recognize these sacrifices is a national crime.


Patsy said...

Thank you, Scott.

“It seemed like a very long bridge,” Millin said - I'll bet!

My father wants bagpipes at his funeral, which all but guarantees that we'll be sobbing when we hear bagpipes for the rest of our lives.

Easy and Elegant Life said...

Thanks for this. Forwarded to my father-in-law and brother-in-law. One an ex-UDT frogman, the other a former Recon Marine, both pipers.

old polo said...

The Belvenie was wonderful. I decided that it was so good in fact that Bill deserved a second!

Pipes of Christmas said...

The 2010 edition of the "Pipes of Christmas" concerts in NYC and NJ will pay special tribute to the late Bill Millin. See for additional information.

Anonymous said...

A moving, heartwarming post about a great man. I would, however, disagree with the comment that there are not many men like Bill Millin anymore. Yes, in general society has gone to hell in a handbasket but our Marines(my own experience)as well as the other branches and the British military as well, are full of them.
Thanks for a great post.