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 Bénouville, 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.
I enjoyed this Bill Millin tribute.