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D-Day 70: Tribute to Bill Millin, Lord Lovat’s piper

6 June 2014

Bill Millin landed on Sword Beach as part of 1st Special Service Brigade in the second wave. He exited the landing craft, and found himself in three feet of water. Shells and mortar fire broke around him, and several machine guns traversed the water’s edge. The man next to him was shot in the face and slipped beneath the surface of the sea. Millin continued to wade towards the shore, taking care to lift his weapon above his head. His weapon was his set of bagpipes.

Millin’s commander, Lord Lovat, who was commonly regarded as a ‘mad bastard’, ordered him to strike up a tune to rouse the troops. Millin inquired if he was to march up and down the battlefront, as was the tradition for pipers. The stately Lord Lovat is alleged to have replied, ‘That would be lovely’. Millin paraded along the waterfront three times, playing tunes while his comrades fought to secure the beach. German prisoners would later claim that they had not shot him because they’d assumed he was mad.

Millin played his pipes while his unit marched 4 miles in land to what would become known as “Pegasus Bridge”, where they relieved Major John Howard’s defence of the strategically vital crossing over the river Orne from elements of the 21st Panzer Division. (See above – in The Longest Day, 1963 – and below in 1984).

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Throughout the landing and march, Millin played ‘Hielan’ Laddie’, ‘The Road to the Isles’ and ‘Blue Bonnets over the Border’. I’m reliably informed that ‘The Road to the Isles’ is a bawdy Gaelic drinking song where you shout ‘up your arse’ at the end of each verse. Some may think that an inappropriate song for the liberation of Europe; but it sounds eminently suitable to me. Lord Lovat certainly didn’t object.

At one point during the fighting for Pegasus Bridge, Millin stopped to play ‘The Nut Brown Maiden’ for a red-headed French girl who had emerged from her family home. The picture below shows the two reunited in 1994.

Bill Millin and Josette Gouellain in Ranville in 1994, 50 years after their first meeting. (MYCHELE DANIAU/AFP/Getty Images)

Bill Millin and Josette Gouellain in Ranville in 1994, 50 years after their first meeting. (MYCHELE DANIAU/AFP/Getty Images)

Piper Millin, who was born in Canada but raised in Glasgow from the age of 3, died in 2010, aged 88.

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Show comments
  • Wessex Man

    I find it quite sad that there are only four comments here the courage of previous generations and five on absolute rubbish.

  • AlexanderGalt

    These days it’s not just the piper that’s bonkers in the army.

    They are so politically correct (synonym of mad) that there is no resistance to allowing women into combat units despite the obvious cost in terms of military effectiveness that will be the certain result.

    There’s a great piece on that called: “It’s The Lies” at:

  • Lady Magdalene

    I can play the bagpipes (badly). It’s hard enough playing them in a standing circle in a display, let alone under fire, and solo.
    Pipe Major Millin was a hero … I hope he was decorated for his valour.

  • Angus_MacDougall

    Interview with Lord Lovat and Piper Bill Millin for the 50th Commemorations in 1994.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    We are not worthy.

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