Normandy bagpiper dies at 88

| August 20, 2010

I don’t know how this story got by TSO today knowing his love for bagpipe music, but Bill Millen the famed bagpiper who was immortalized in the very excellent movie The Longest Day died Wednesday from complications arising from a stroke;

Against orders from World War I that forbade playing bagpipes on the battlefield because of the high risk of attracting enemy fire, Lord Lovat, then 32, asked Private Millin to play on the beachhead to raise morale.

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.”

After wading ashore in waist-high water that he said caused his kilt to float, Private Millin reached the beach, then marched up and down, unarmed, playing the tunes Lord Lovat had requested, including “Highland Laddie” and “Road to the Isles.”

With German troops raking the beach with artillery and machine-gun fire, the young piper played on as his fellow soldiers advanced through smoke and flame on the German positions, or fell on the beach.

I remember the scene from the Cornelius Ryan book-based movie had a youthful Sean Connery cast as a private complaining about “the racket” from the bagpipes.

Thank you for the small but significant role you played that day, Bill, that day filled to the brim with heroes.

On a tip from anon in the comments a fitting tribute;

When i leave this world behind me
To another i will go
If there are no pipes in heaven
I`ll be going down below

If friends in time be severed
Someday we will meet again
I`ll return to leave you never
Be a piper to the end

This has been a day to die fo
Now the day has almost gone
Up above a choir of seabirds
Turns to face the setting sun

Now the evening dawn is calling
And all the hills are burning red
And before the night comes falling
Clouds are lined with golden thread

We watched the fires together
Shared our quarters for a while
Walked the dusty roads together
Came so many miles

This has been a day to die on
Now the day is almost done
Here the pipes will lay beside me
Silent will the battle drum

If friends in time be severed
Someday here we will meet again
I return to leave you never
Be a piper to the end

Category: Blue Skies

Comments (18)

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  1. anon says:

    This is Mark Knopfler’s uncle, whom he sings about in the tremendous “Piper to the End” from the Get Lucky album.

  2. TSO says:

    Wow. I am so pissed I missed this.
    This story honestly gives me chills, and I still think Mark Knopfler is the best non-pick guitarist ever.

  3. ROS says:

    I’m not ashamed to say my eyes watered.

    And this is by far the best quote ever: “Ah, but that’s the English War Office. You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn’t apply.”

    I’ll listen to some Furey brothers and Tommy Makem with the Clancys this eve in his honor.

  4. BooRadley says:

    nice jonn. I’ve had a ridiculously emotional week. Sorta like frosting.

  5. Susan says:

    Interesting to know. I always thought “Brothers in Arms” was less a “protest song” as some have said, and more about the Scottish border wars and professional soldiers.

    Personally, I am headed to the UK on Sunday and Scotland on Friday. Will raise a pint to Mr. Millen, Sgt. McKenzie, and you guys.

  6. Old Tanker says:

    When I was younger and raced sailboats we always had a big regatta in September to close out the summer. Being in Michigan we would attract a number of Canadian sailors. There was a father and son from Canada that were of Scottish decent that would stand out on the docks at sunset and play Amazing Grace on their bagpipes. An incredible sound! Godspeed Mr. Millen!

  7. jonp says:

    The only time I’ve shed a tear at a funeral was at Taps for my Grandfather who was a Vet of Normandy and at another funeral where Amazing Grace was played on the pipes. Something about the pipes just gets you.

  8. AW1 Tim says:


    Agreed. Up here in Bath, Maine, we are blessed to have a pipe band that plays every 17th of each month at our local Irish Pub. Wonderful music, so beautifully sad, and sadly beautiful.

  9. nhsparky says:

    Tim–sounds like I may have to make the trip one of these months. Making sure, of course, I’m sober enough to drive back home afterwards.

  10. AW1 Tim says:

    Sparky….. lemme know. I’ve got a futon you can crash on. 🙂

  11. Will says:

    I was sitting on Mt, Airy near NAS Whidbey Island in Washington state, enjoying the sunset. Just me, Lake Campbell, and the setting sun. It was beautiful. Suddenly, I heard the souind of movement behind me. I didn’t look around, I was disappointed that my solitude was being disturbed. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of bagpipes being readied followed by the most beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace. My solitude became complete as the lovely hymn wrapped around me. My eyes watered for some reason. I never did look around to see who had played the pipes. I didn’t need to. It takes a special kind of person to play them.

  12. B-1 Unit says:

    For the first half of my life, I never had any appreciation for the ‘pipes…that is until I met Donald Legge, a Scottsman who immigrated to the U.S. and joined the Illinois Army National Guard. Now, when I hear Scottland the Brave, my back straightens, my shoulders square, my gait matches the beat and I think of Donald. He was a great soldier, a great piper, and a true Scottish gentleman.

  13. Ian says:

    Very touching story. May Bill Millin rest in peace. He inspires us all.
    Yours aye,
    Ian Mackenzie

  14. DonaldMac says:

    Ah, the pipes. My daughter is due to be married next month to a guy who had mentioned that he always thought that a set of pipes at the wedding would be cool.


    They are going to be escorted down the asle the other way by a set, and then piped into the reception hall.

    He’s under orders not to play “Amazing Grace”. We don’t need any more tears that day!

  15. Jacobite says:

    Being as my dad was from Scotland, and being as he was a semi professional musician, I grew up with a deep appreciation for the pipes. I had a piper for both of my children’s christenings.

    Two of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had with the pipes were in Kuwait and Iraq. Right before we deployed North from Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, we watched as a New York National Guard MP unit was piped out the gates and into the fight by one of their own soldiers. And while there were a couple guys at Tallil in Southern Iraq that played regularly, none was as good as the Regimental Piper for a Norwegian engineer’s unit, who repaid a debt to our unit for some favors we did them by sending their piper and bugler to give us a impromptu hour long exhibition. The piper was a 30+ yr veteran originally from Nepal. He was incredible, and one tough old sob to boot.

    Bill Millen, RIP, I’ll be lifting a pint and playing the L’inconnu de limoise, the dead piper’s lament, in your memory tonight, and follow it with Mackintosh’s Lament and the 79th Farewell to Gibraltar.

    David Gordon Bydand

  16. PintoNag says:

    I worked at in an office that was literally two doors down from a Fire House. On 9/11, one of the firemen climbed onto the roof of the Fire House, and played the ‘pipes for about a half-hour, maybe a little more.
    Nothing could have given voice to our feelings the way those pipes did. And no one moved out of our parking lot until that fireman climbed down off of the roof.

  17. ThommyMac says:

    Walking home today I cut by CMU’s athletic field (The Tartans, since Carnegie bankrolled it) and a piper was practicing. I sat down, drank a soda and smoked a square, letting the pipes get me out of myself for a few minutes. I usually swing by TAH after checking mail. What a surprise. Post #2, ditto.