Piper Bill D-Day hero, dies at 86


Verified SOF
Jan 15, 2008

Bill Millin, the piper who braved D-Day fire, dies aged 86

BILL Millin, the Scottish bagpiper who defied enemy fire as he led comrades into battle at the 1944 D-Day landings in Normandy, has died.

He was 86.

Piper Bill, as he became known, saw his courageous action immortalised in the Hollywood film The Longest Day. Despite being unarmed, and with friends falling around him, Millin led British troops ashore on Sword Beach, continuing to play Highland Laddie.

His commanding officer, Lord Lovat, had asked him to ignore rules banning the playing of bagpipes in battle and requested that he should play to rally his comrades. Millin was 21 at the time.

"When you're young, you do things you wouldn't dream of doing when you're older. I enjoyed playing the pipes, but I didn't notice I was being shot at," he said in a BBC interview in 2006. Millin, who was born in Glasgow in 1923, died in hospital in Torbay, southwest England, after a short illness, his family said.

They said Piper Bill would always be remembered as an "iconic part of all those who gave so much to free Europe from tyranny".

As piper to Brigadier Lord Lovat, commander of 1st Special Service Brigade, Millin was ordered to play Blue Bonnets Over the Border on his bagpipes as the 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. After the landing craft grounded in the shallow water off the Normandy beaches, Millin 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" - a sobriquet normally reserved for the commanding officer.

Millin later said the speed of the brigade's advance made him forget his fear. 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."

Millin continued to play Highland tunes as the brigade advanced about 5km inland under intense German infantry and sniper fire, to relieve the airborne troops at the Pegasus bridge over the Caen Canal and the Ranville bridge over the River Orne. Millin did not, as is popularly supposed, play himself in the Hollywood film, which featured American stars including John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and Rod Steiger, and British actors Richard Burton, Richard Todd and Sean Connery.

The piper's role was taken by Pipe Major Leslie de Laspee, official piper to the Queen Mother at the time.

Millin often returned to France to pay respect to his fallen comrades. French fundraisers have been trying to raise pound stg. 80,000 ($138,600) 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.

Millin, whose wife predeceased him, is survived by a son.