I’ve always wondered why Bill Millin played his pipes on the beach at Normandy on D-day. Was he brave, proud or mad. He was certainly lucky to survive. The obituary in the Times of London is great reading. Some quotes:
As the landing craft grounded in the shallow water off the Normandy beaches, Lovat was on one of the two ramps at the front of the craft, Millin on the other. The piper cannily let his chief make the first jump “because he was six feet tall, to see what depth it was.” Millin followed him smartly into the water from his ramp, noting that the shock of the freezing cold water had made him completely forget the wretchedness of his seasickness.
Millan 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 CO himself.
As 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 Millin finally found himself piping to a small party of French civilians. He and Lovat had entered a clearly where a group of ragged and terrified farm workers crouched with a small girl with red hair and bare feet in their midst.
As the terrified girl shrieked “Music, music, music!” at them Millin turned to Lovat and asked him “What do you think?” “Okay, then, give her a tune,” replied the CO. Millin obliged with 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.
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.