D-Day Piper Millin Dies at 87
The Times of London
As piper to a British army
unit, Bill Millin was ordered to play "Blue Bonnets Over the Border" on
his bagpipes as his brigade waded ashore on Sword Beach immediately
behind the 3rd Division on the morning of D-Day, June 6, 1944, and
thereafter battled its way inland.
Mr. Millin, who died Wednesday
at age 87, continued to play Highland tunes as the brigade advanced
inland under intense German infantry and sniper fire through the
villages of Ouistreham and then Benouville en route to their objective.
was the relief of the airborne troops at the Pegasus bridge over the
Caen Canal and the Ranville bridge over the River Orne. These had been
captured in a remarkable glider-borne assault in the first half hour of
But according to Mr. Millin, his unit's commander,
Brigadier Simon Fraser, was somewhat economical with the truth when he
greeted the defender's grateful commander with a nonchalant "Aye, we are
very pleased to see you old boy. Sorry we are two-anda-half minutes
"We should have been there around about midday and it was now after one," Mr. Millin recalled.
Millin piped the landing craft carrying himself and his fellow
commandos past the Isle of Wight to the cheers of thousands of troops
and sailors on the decks of the other ships of the invasion force. By
the time the invasion force was into the Channel proper, the seas had
become far too rough for Millin to continue, and the troops went below
and tried to catch some sleep below decks between bouts of seasickness
in the heavy swells.
As the landing craft grounded off the
Normandy beaches, Mr. Millin jumped into the water from his ramp, noting
that the shock of the freezing cold water had made him completely
forget his seasickness. He strode ashore through the surf continuing to
play right up the beach. Not everyone in the unit approved of the
musical accompaniment. Some cheered. Others yelled "mad bastard" at him —
a sobriquet normally reserved for the commanding officer.
Millin recalled, the speed of the brigade's advance tended to make him
forget his fear. As he ran through the bagpipe repertoire the process
seemed to gain an unearthly momentum of its own. When another officer
told him to run, he heard himself saying calmly: "No, I won't be running
sir. I will just play them as usual."
At the end of a long first
day in France Mr. Millin finally found himself piping to a small party
of French civilians. He had entered a clearing where a group of ragged
and terrified farm workers crouched with a small girl with red hair and
bare feet in their midst. After the terrified girl shrieked "Music,
music, music!" at them Mr. Millin broke into "The Nut Brown Maid," until
a further outbreak of mortar fire put an end to this impromptu
entertainment, and the French workers fled for cover.
That night, Mr. Millin and his unit were billeted in an empty farmhouse at the end of an extraordinary day of fighting.
Millin did not, as is popularly supposed, play himself in the cameo
role as the piper in the war film spectacular of 1962 "The Longest Day."
Pipe Major Leslie de Laspee, official piper to the Queen Mother at the
time, played on that occasion.
Over the past few decades Mr.
Millin, who was born in Glasgow, had often returned to France to pay
respect to his fallen comrades. French fundraisers have been trying to
raise $125,000 to erect a statue of him at Sword Beach. His bagpipes,
which were badly damaged by shrapnel a few days after D-Day were given a
permanent home in the National War Museum of Scotland in 2001.