Bill Millin – The Last Lament

Living History

D-Day’s ‘Mad Piper’ Bill Millin Dies Aged 88

Bill Millin, 88, died after a short illness in a nursing home in Devon where he lived after suffering a stroke several years ago, his family said.

Mr Millin was immortalised in the film The Longest Day.

Nicknamed the Mad Piper, he braved German bullets and bombs as he played his comrades ashore on Sword Beach during the D-Day Normandy landings on June 6, 1944 – the Allied invasion which led to the liberation of Europe from Nazi rule.

Military bosses had ordered pipers not to play because of fears over the level of casualties at the landings.

But that decision was ignored by 1st Commando Brigade commander Lord Lovat.

He told Mr Millin, then 21 years old, to play away and so troops were led ashore to the sound of Highland Laddie, Blue Bonnets Over The Border and Road to the Isles.

However, the pipes were silenced four days later by a shard of shrapnel.

Mr Millin – a celebrated hero in France – was the only soldier wearing a kilt, which had also been worn by his father in the trenches during the First World War.

It is said that his actions amused the Germans and some claimed they did not shoot him because they thought he was mad.

Mr Millin recalled that many Allied troops told him they had been inspired by his courageous antics, although others were annoyed – one soldier on Sword Beach told him he was a “mad bastard”.

Later in the campaign Mr Millin famously ignored sniper fire as he and Lovat crossed Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal near Benouville, which had been taken by glider-borne paratroopers.

Securing the bridge was a key objective in the fight to break the initial German resistance and establish a foothold in Occupied France.

Mr Millin returned to Normanday for key commemorations and in 1994 he was reunited with Josette Gouellain in the town of Ranville.

Fifty years ealier Ms Gouellain, then a little girl, had asked him to play her a tune and he obliged with The Nut Brown Maiden in reference to the colour of her hair and eyes.

The following year he played the lament at Lord Lovat’s funeral.

A statue of Mr Millin is due to be unveiled at Colleville-Montgomery, near the site of Sword Beach, next year.

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