Who is Bill Millin, you might ask. He was the Scottish piper who is best remembered for piping the troops ashore at Normandy on D-Day. Bill Millin 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. 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 died Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at the age of 88 in Devon, England.
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.
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"
On his Wikipedia page, there is a photo of Bill Millin with his pipes, just before going ashore from the Higgins Boat.
Embedding is disabled, but this is a video of a wonderful interview with Bill Millin, along with photographs of some of the memorabilia of the "Mad Piper."
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 all battle tested soldiers. Carry on....
May his brave soul be embraced in the light of eternal peace. Bless them all. Bless them all.