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D-Day 'Piper Bill' Millin laid to rest

By Emma Thelwell

Updated on 03 September 2010

World War Two piper Bill Millin, who heroically played the bagpipes as the Germans fired at troops during the D-Day landings in 1944, has been laid to rest in Exeter.

Piper Bill: Bill Millin, the World War Two veteran who played the bagpipes as troops landed at Sword Beach in Normandy on D-Day, died in August.

Known as 'Piper Bill', the Scotsman was famed for striking up Hieland Laddie on his bagpipes as his comrades landed at Sword Beach amid heavy gunfire.

Mr Millin was a member of the Lovat Scouts and they famously liberated "Pegasus Bridge" as immortalised in the Longest Day.

Unarmed, save his traditional dirk dagger, Mr Millin continued playing after reaching the beach under the orders of his commanding officer Lord Lovat of the 1st Commando Brigade.

Mr Millin later said in a television interview that as he walked up and down the beach playing The Road to the Isles, there were cheers from soldiers, but also calls of "you mad bastard".

He said that some years ago he met the German officer commanding the area during the landing, and asked why he was not shot at.

The German replied that they thought he was mad. "I'm very pleased that they thought I was mad because everybody else seemed to be getting shot and wounded," he said. "Being a bagpiper probably saved me."

Aged just 22 at the time, the war veteran was immortalised in the story of Pegagsus Bridge in the 1962 Oscar-winning film The Longest Day.

Brigadier Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, had landed at Sword Beach - his task, and that of his troops, was to link up with the airborne troops at Pegasus Bridge - which became the first place liberated in France.

Against protocol, Lord Lovat instructed his personal piper, Mr Millin, to play his bagpipes as they pressed on towards the troops.

Mr Millin died just over a fortnight ago in Torbay Hospital aged 88, after spending his final days in a nursing home in Dawlish, Devon.

Speaking at his funeral on Thursday, Mr Millin's son said his father pleaded with him "not to go on about D-Day" at his funeral. "They know about D-Day," he had joked to his son, "half of them would have been there".

Nevertheless, family, friends and comrades paid tribute to the brave piper today, with Serge Athenour, President of the D-Day Piper Association, travelling from France to be there (see video).

Since his death, French officials have stepped up a campaign to raise more money to erect a life size bronze statue of Mr Millin in Colleville-Montgomery, a town on Sword Beach.

The memorial is set to cost around 70,000 euros, according to The Normandy Advertiser, which said Mr Millin had hoped to visit Normandy to attend the unveiling of the statue next year.

Mr Millin told The Advertiser earlier this year: "I never expected anything like this. It is a great honour. It is a good likeness. It is very good of the French to do this for me."

The French are holding a memorial service accompanied by several pipes and drums for Mr Millin on 11 September on Sword Beach.

Mr Athenour, of the D-Day Piper Association, said Mr Mallin had accepted the statue "not for himself, but to pay tribute to all those (who) took part".

Mr Athenour added: "He said: 'If they remember the bagpiper they will not forget those who served and fell on the beaches of Normandy'".

Ken Sturdy, a 90-year-old veteran who served with the Royal Navy, described hearing Mr Millin's bagpipes when he landed on the beach on 6 June, 1944.

"Among all the noise and bedlam going on I could hear bagpipes. I thought I had imagined them and it wasn't until later that I realised I really had heard them.

"Bill marched boldly with his pipes in a situation that was quite unbelievable. It was in the heat of battle, there was a lot of gunfire and he was unarmed except for his pipes and his dirk."

Mr Sturdy, chairman of the Torbay and South Devon branch of the Normandy Veterans Association, paid tribute to Mr Millin.

"It was certainly heroic. People were dying around him and he was in the most alarming situation so he must have been a very cool young fellow," he said.

"He was what we would nowadays call a celebrity," he said. "But he wouldn't like that as he was very modest.

"He used to joke that when the enemy heard him coming they panicked at the sound of the pipes. He was friendly and warm and had a quiet sense of humour."

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