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William Millin
Bill Millin plays his pipes for fellow soldiers in 1944
Nickname Piper Bill
Born (1922-07-14)14 July 1922
Died 17 August 2010(2010-08-17) (aged 88)
Place of birth Regina, Saskatchewan
Place of death Torbay, England
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Rank Private
Unit Highland Light Infantry
Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders
No. 4 Commando
World War II Normandy landings at Sword Beach
Other work Psychiatric nurse

William "Bill" Millin (14 July 1922 – 17 August 2010[1]), commonly known as Piper Bill, was personal piper to Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, commander of 1 Special Service Brigade at D-Day.

Early life[edit | edit source]

He was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada on 14 July 1922 to a father of Scottish origin who returned to Glasgow as a policeman when William was three. He grew up and went to school in the Shettleston area of the city. He joined the Territorial Army in Fort William, where his family had moved, and played in the pipe bands of the Highland Light Infantry and the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders before volunteering as a commando and training with Lovat at Achnacarry along with French, Dutch, Belgian, Polish, Norwegian, and Czechoslovakian troops.[2]

World War II[edit | edit source]

Landing on Sword Beach; Millin is in the foreground; Lovat is to the right of the column[3]

Millin is best remembered for playing the pipes whilst under fire during the D-Day landing in Normandy.[4] Pipers had traditionally been used in battle by Scottish and Irish soldiers.[5] However, the use of bagpipes was restricted to rear areas by the time of the Second World War by the British Army. Lovat, nevertheless, ignored these orders and ordered Millin, then aged 21, to play. When Private Millin demurred, citing the regulations, he recalled later, Lord Lovat replied: “Ah, but that’s the English War Office. You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn’t apply.” He played "Hielan' Laddie" and "The Road to the Isles" as his comrades fell around him on Sword Beach.[1] Millin states that he later talked to captured German snipers who claimed they did not shoot at him because they thought he was crazy.[6]

Millin, whom Lovat had appointed his personal piper during commando training at Achnacarry, near Fort William in Scotland, was the only man during the landing who wore a kilt – it was the same Cameron tartan kilt his father had worn in Flanders during World War I – and he was armed only with his pipes and the sgian-dubh, or "black knife", sheathed inside his kilt-hose on the right side.[7]

Lovat and Millin advanced from Sword Beach to Pegasus Bridge, which had been defiantly defended by men of the 2nd Bn the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry (6th Airborne Division) who had landed in the early hours by glider. Lovat's commandos arrived at a little past one p.m. at Pegasus Bridge although the rendezvous time in the plan was noon. To the sound of Millin's bagpipes, the commandos marched across Pegasus Bridge as a result of which twelve men died, shot through their berets. Later detachments of the commandos rushed across in small groups with helmets on. Millin's D-Day bagpipes were later donated to the now Pegasus Bridge Museum.[8]

Later life[edit | edit source]

Millin saw further action with 1 SSB in the Netherlands and Germany before being demobbed (demobilised) in 1946 and going to work on Lord Lovat's highland estate. In the 1950s he became a registered psychiatric nurse in Glasgow, moving south to a hospital in Devon in the late '60s until he retired in the Devon town of Dawlish in 1988.[6] He made regular trips back to Normandy for commemoration ceremonies. France awarded him a Croix d’Honneur award for gallantry in June 2009.[9][10] In 2006, a Devon folk singer, Sheelagh Allen, wrote a song about him, "The Highland Piper".[11]

Millin, who suffered a stroke in 2003, died in hospital in Torbay on 17 August 2010, aged 88.[1][4] His wife Margaret (née Dowdel, from Edinburgh) died in 2000. He was survived by their son John.[12]

Popular culture and legacy[edit | edit source]

Millin's action on D-Day was portrayed in the 1962 film The Longest Day.[4] Millin was played by Pipe Major Leslie de Laspee, the official piper to the Queen Mother in 1961.[13]

One set of Millin's bagpipes are exhibited at the Memorial Museum of Pegasus Bridge in Ranville, France.

French fundraisers have been trying to raise £80,000 to erect a statue of Piper Millin at Colleville-Montgomery, a town on Sword Beach, but have been disappointed by only six of the 87 donations having come from the UK.[14]

Another set of his bagpipes are now displayed at Dawlish Museum.[15] Millin presented his pipes to Dawlish Museum prior to the 60th anniversary of the D-Day Landings in 2004, along with his kilt, bonnet and dirk. These items are still shown at the museum library with photographic archives and looped video telling of Millin’s exploits.[16]

Piper Bill Millin's bagpipes played on Sword Beach during the D-Day landings on display at Dawlish Museum along with his bonnet, 100 year old kilt and dirk

With the help of son John Millin and the Dawlish Royal British Legion, a bronze life-size statue of Piper Bill Millin was unveiled on 8 June 2013 at Colleville-Montgomery, near Sword Beach, in France.[17][18]

Piper Bill Millin Statue at Sword beach

On August 7, 2013,BBC's The One Show featured a film about Piper Bills son John Millin and his playing of the bagpipes in memory of his father at the unveiling of the statue to Piper Bill at Colleville-Montgomery in Normandy.Broadcast live, from Weston-Super-Mare, Larry Lamb explained that Bill Millins pipes and uniform are on display at Dawlish Museum in Devon.The film also showed scenes of more than 500 pipers from 21 countries taking part in the unveiling of the £50,000 statue by French sculptor Gaetan Ader which took more than four years of fund raising by the D-Day Piper Bill Millin Association to complete.Link to the program -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zS0UJlGFFqM .[19]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Piper Bill Millin", Telegraph
  2. Phil Davison,The Independent Obituaries.23 August 2010.
  3. Arthur, Max - Forgotten Voices of The Second World War, 2004, Random House, ISBN 0091897343, p 317
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Bill Millin, Scottish D-Day Piper, Dies at 88". New York Times. August 19, 2010. Archived from the original on 23 August 2010. http://web.archive.org/web/20100823082645/http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/20/world/europe/20millin.html?src=me&ref=general. Retrieved 2010-08-20. "Bill Millin, a Scottish bagpiper who played highland tunes as his fellow commandos landed on a Normandy beach on D-Day and lived to see his bravado immortalized in the 1962 film 'The Longest Day,' died on Wednesday in a hospital in the western England county of Devon. He was 88." 
  5. Scotland.com -History of Scotland
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Bill Millin". August 28, 2010. pp. 76. http://www.economist.com/node/16885894?story_id=16885894. Retrieved January 12, 2010. 
  7. Phil Davison,The Independent Obituary,23 August 2010
  8. "Bill Millin". 26 August 2010. http://www.economist.com/node/16885894. Retrieved 3 September 2012. 
  9. Daily Record article on Bill Millin
  10. Daily Mail article on Bill Millin
  11. BBC News
  12. Phil Davison,The Independent Obituaries,23 August 2010
  13. "Dawlish D-Day veteran back in Normandy", The Herald, June 6, 2009,
  14. French condemn 'mean' British over memorial,Daily Telegraph 4 June 2010
  15. Mavis Stuckey (Dawlsh Museum Curator). Western Morning News. August 18, 2010.
  16. "'A true British hero'". Tindle Newspapers Ltd. August 25, 2010. http://www.dawlishnewspapers.co.uk/news.cfm?id=29628&headline=%27A%20true%20British%20hero%27. Retrieved August 27, 2010. 
  17. ellen grindley reporter dawlish gazette, 19th september, 2012. Publisher Tindle Newspapers Ltd.
  18. "'Colleville-Montgomery : inauguration de la statue de Bill Millin ce samedi matin'". France 3. 8 June 2013. http://basse-normandie.france3.fr/2013/06/08/colleville-montgomery-inauguration-de-la-statue-de-bill-millin-ce-samedi-matin-266197.html. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  19. ref name Ellen Grindley, Dawlish Gazette August 14th,2013.publisher=Tindle Newspapers Ltd

External links[edit | edit source]

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