Piper William (Bill) Millin Memorial Campaign
On 17th August 2010 aged 88 years the piping world sadly saw the peaceful passing of a true living legend not only as a person but as a Piper and that was of William (Bill) Millin. Bill, was the ‘personal piper’ to Lord Lovat, Commanding Officer of the 1st Commando Brigade during the Normandy D-Day campaign in 1944.
However, how many of us are aware of an active campaign which hoped to see the unveiling of a memorial in Bill’s image on the actual beach in Normandy where Bill landed, not only to commemorate the man himself, but more importantly commemorate the sacrifice made by various members of the various Allied commando and Special Forces units.
The campaign to raise funds and build the memorial was the originally the idea of Serge Athenour of the ‘Mary Queen of Scots Pipe-band’, Normandy, France and associates. The estimated cost to complete this project is in the region of 80,000 Euro. To date 18,000 Euro has been raised by public donation. It was hoped that the memorial would have been ready for unveiling at the 65th anniversary commemorations.
So far to date, the site to erect the memorial has been secured and permission granted, and a full size clay statue and moulds for metal casting, plus a 1/2 size resin figurine have been created.
French Stonemasons have been secured to sculpt the stone; quotes and negotiations are being made with foundries in both the United Kingdom and in France to cast the full size figure in Bronze. It is hoped that Stone from the ‘Achnacarry’ area of Scotland, being significant to British commando units who trained there, will be donated and assistance to transport the stone can be secured.
However, there is no complacency as there is still the significant requirement to raise additional funds.
Despite the sadness at not being able to have completed the Memorial before Bill’s passing there is continued optimism within the central organising committee.
Serge Athenour told reporters;
Bill said to me once “If they remember the piper then they will not forget those who served and fell on the beaches on Normandy”
The real question to ask is ‘Do you feel concerned by the duty of memory for all those young men who died for our Freedom?’ If YES! Please donate, attend the unveiling if you can, and be welcome to pay tribute here from now to future generations. I am very sad that Bill will not be in attendance but I know he was proud and honoured of our endeavours and rests in peace knowing that we WILL complete the task….. UNITED WE CONQUOR!”
Many would ask “What distinguished this son of Scotland from all those other brave men and women, from various nations?”
Bill, like so many of the Normandy Veterans, being a humble and modest man would perhaps take a more sombre and pragmatic view of his exploits that he ‘got on’ with the task required of him, his comrades and other servicemen and women of the Normandy campaign
Bill’s own words tell the story…
"Mentioning regulations Lord Lovat replied: “Ah, but that’s the ‘English’ War Office. You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn’t apply”.
We were the first out of our troop to reach the shore. The ramps on the boat went down the man in front me was hit in the face and fell under the swirl.
Bullets were raking the beach and bodies lying all around, Lovat ordered me to play 'Highland Laddie.' I started playing as soon as I touched the water he then asked me to play 'Road to the Isles' up and down the beach.
There was no time to feel any real emotion Normandy was a most upsetting campaign because there were so many casualties, It was a killing ground. Wounded men were shocked to see me. They had been expecting to see a doctor or some kind of medical help. Instead they saw me in my kilt and playing the bagpipes. It was horrifying, as I felt so helpless. But those who survived the landings offered no reproach.
“Whenever I hear those songs I remember walking through the surf.''
The practice of playing Bagpipes had been being forbidden by the War Office following WWI in which saw a high casualty rate amongst Scottish and Irish Regimental pipers in the slaughter which was supposedly was ‘the war to end all wars’.
Bill, being one of the very few Pipers to play the Bagpipes in action during the WWII has since gone down in military history as an iconic moment and a part of living history and is immortalised in film based on Cornelius Ryan’s book, ‘The Longest Day’.
Bill was labelled as the ‘Mad Piper’ the origins stem from various sources, it could be from other allied servicemen who whilst taking cover with their fallen comrades around them thought he was mad or could it be from German defenders who upon seeing him thought the same and allowed him to live in his own personal insanity; in the insanity which was enveloping them all?
Whatever the view there is no doubt that his actions, courageous as they were, provided the courage and sparked the inner strength for others to strive on. But equally, it perhaps brought some peace and solace to those wounded or in their dying moments.
Veteran Tom Duncan, one of Bill’s Commando comrades told reporters;
"...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"
Donations can be carried out as follows
By Cheque (In Euros)
The D-Day Piper Bill Millin
Association “The D-Day Piper Bill Millin”
Mairie (Mayor’s office)
3 Grande rue
14880 COLLEVILLE- MONTGOMERY
Via PAYPAL in your own currency