Lord Lovat

Lord Lovat Memorial
Lord Lovat Memorial

This is the statue of Lord Lovat at Sword Beach, Normandy.

Lovat was seriously wounded at the Battle of Breville (see previous post) on June 12, 1944.

He recovered and has gone down in legend as leader of D-Day’s 1st Special Service Brigade.


3 thoughts on “Lord Lovat



        Bill Millin, who died on August 17 [2010] aged 88, was personal piper to Lord Lovat on D-Day and piped the invasion forces on to the shores of France; unarmed apart from the ceremonial dagger in his stocking, he played unflinchingly as men fell all around him.

        6:35PM BST 18 Aug 2010, The Telegraph

        Millin began his apparently suicidal serenade immediately upon jumping from the ramp of the landing craft into the icy water. As the Cameron tartan of his kilt floated to the surface he struck up with Hieland Laddie. He continued even as the man behind him was hit, dropped into the sea and sank.

        Once ashore Millin did not run, but walked up and down the beach, blasting out a series of tunes. After Hieland Laddie, Lovat, the commander of 1st Special Service Brigade (1 SSB), raised his voice above the crackle of gunfire and the crump of mortar, and asked for another. Millin strode up and down the water’s edge playing The Road to the Isles.

        Bodies of the fallen were drifting to and fro in the surf. Soldiers were trying to dig in and, when they heard the pipes, many of them waved and cheered — although one came up to Millin and called him a “mad bastard”.

        His worst moments were when he was among the wounded. They wanted medical help and were shocked to see this figure strolling up and down playing the bagpipes. To feel so helpless, Millin said afterwards, was horrifying. For many other soldiers, however, the piper provided a unique boost to morale. “I shall never forget hearing the skirl of Bill Millin’s pipes,” said one, Tom Duncan, many years later. “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.”

        When the brigade moved off, Millin was with the group that attacked the rear of Ouistreham. After the capture of the town, he went with Lovat towards Bénouville, piping along the road.

        They were very exposed, and were shot at by snipers from across the canal. Millin stopped playing. Everyone threw themselves flat on the ground — apart from Lovat, who went down on one knee. When one of the snipers scrambled down a tree and dived into a cornfield, Lovat stalked him and shot him. He then sent two men into the corn to look for him and they came back with the corpse. “Right, Piper,” said Lovat, “start the pipes again.”

        At Bénouville, where they again came under fire, the CO of 6 Commando asked Millin to play them down the main street. He suggested that Millin should run, but the piper insisted on walking and, as he played Blue Bonnets over the Border, the commandos followed.

        When they came to the crossing which later became known as Pegasus Bridge, troops on the other side signalled frantically that it was under sniper fire. Lovat ordered Millin to shoulder his bagpipes and play the commandos over. “It seemed like a very long bridge,” Millin said afterwards.

        The pipes were damaged by shrapnel later that day, but remained playable. Millin was surprised not to have been shot, and he mentioned this to some Germans who had been taken prisoner.

        They said that they had not shot at him because they thought he had gone off his head.

        William Millin, the son of a policeman, was born in Glasgow on July 14 1922. For a few years the family lived in Canada, but they returned to Scotland and Bill went to school in Glasgow.

        He joined the TA [Territorial Army] before the Second World War and played in the pipe band of the 7th Battalion the Highland Light Infantry. He subsequently transferred to the Cameron Highlanders before volunteering to join the commandos in 1941.

        He met Lord Lovat while he doing his commando training at Achnacarry, north of Fort William. Lovat, the hereditary chief of the Clan Fraser, offered him a job as his batman, but Millin turned this down and Lovat agreed instead to take him on as his personal piper.

        The War Office had banned pipers from leading soldiers into battle after losses in the Great War had proved too great. “Ah, but that’s the English War Office,” Lovat told Millin. “You and I are both Scottish and that doesn’t apply.” On D-Day, Millin was the only piper.

        When Millin boarded the landing craft bound for the Normandy beaches, he took his bagpipes out of their box and, standing in the bow, played Road to the Isles as they went out of The Solent. Someone relayed the music over the loud hailer and troops on other transports heard it and started cheering and throwing their hats in the air.

        Like many others, Millin was so seasick on the rough crossing that the coast of France proved a welcome sight, despite the dangers that came with it. “I didn’t care what was going on ashore. I just wanted to get off that bloody landing craft,” he said.

        He returned to England with 1 SSB in September 1944, but then accompanied 4 Commando to Holland; he finished the war at Lubeck. After being demobilised the following year he took up the offer of a job on Lord Lovat’s estate .

        This life proved too quiet for him, however, and he joined a touring theatre company with which he appeared playing his pipes on the stage in London, Stockton-on-Tees and Belfast. In the late 1950s he trained in Glasgow as a registered mental nurse and worked in three hospitals in the city.

        In 1963 Millin moved to Devon, where he was employed at the Langdon Hospital, Dawlish, until he retired in 1988. In several of the Ten Tors hikes on Dartmoor organised by the Army he took part as the piper, and also visited America, where he lectured about his D-Day experiences.

        In 1962 Cornelius Ryan’s book The Longest Day was adapted into a film. The part of the piper who accompanied Lovat’s commandos was played by Pipe Major Leslie de Laspee, the official piper to the Queen Mother.

        Millin played the lament at Lord Lovat’s funeral in 1995, and he donated his pipes to the National War Museum in Edinburgh. The mayor of Colleville-Montgomery, a town on Sword Beach, has offered a site for a life-size statue of Millin opposite the place where he landed on D-Day. This is due to be unveiled next year.

        Bill Millin married, in 1954, Margaret Mary Dowdel. She predeceased him and he is survived by their son.

        In 2009, Bill Millin was honored by the French, and this article appeared in The Telegraph:


        A Second World War veteran who played the bagpipes on the Normandy beach during the D-Day landings 65 years ago is to be honoured by French officials for his role in liberating them from Nazi Germany.

        By Richard Savill

        4:25PM GMT 17 Nov 2009

        Bill Millin, now 86, tried to raise the morale of incoming troops with his tunes, as shells exploded overhead and machinegun fire raked Sword Beach.

        The picture of the 21-year-old commando became one of the enduring images of the landings which paved the way to Hitler’s defeat in the Second World War.

        Now he is to be immortalised in a life-sized statue by the people of Colleville Montgomery, which he helped to liberate in 1944.

        On Thursday a group of French officials are due to visit him near his home in Dawlish, Devon, to show him a model of the statue.

        The party will be headed by Serge Athenour de Gourdon, chairman of the Mary Queen of Scots Pipe Band of France, and one of the principal organisers of commemorative occasions in Normandy.

        Mr Millin’s playing led the 1st Commando Brigade as it stormed Sword Beach on the first day of the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944.

        The commandos had to fight their way onto the shore under heavy German fire to establish a beachhead for the invasion force.

        The military high command had ordered pipers not to play because of fears over the level of casualties.

        However, that decision was ignored by the brigade’s commander, Lord Lovat, who ordered Mr Millin to lead his troops ashore to the skirl of the pipes.

        The hereditary chief of the Clan Fraser told the private, originally from Scotland, to play Highland Laddie, Blue Bonnets over the Border and Road to the Isles, to raise spirits.

        The bagpipes were damaged by shrapnel, but after leaving the beach Mr Millin, who sported the kilt his father had worn in the First World War, calmly replaced them and carried on playing all the way to Pegasus Bridge.

        Mr Millin’s actions so bemused German soldiers they did not shoot him because they thought he was mad.

        His exploits were recorded in the 1962 film The Longest Day. In the film, Mr Millin was played by Pipe Major Leslie de Laspee, the official piper to the Queen Mother in 1961.

        Mr Millin is feted in France and as a mark of admiration for his courage, the mayor and citizens of Colleville-Montgomery have commissioned the bronze statue.

        It is hoped he will be present next year to unveil the tribute to him and his comrades in the liberation of France.

        Speaking on behalf of Devon’s Royal British Legion, Peter Williams said:

        “Bill is very aware of the importance of this, not just for him but his comrades who died or were injured.

        “The French that are coming over are particularly keen on doing this because it is their way of saying thank you to the Allies for the sacrifices that we made.”

        When he learned of the gesture, Mr Millin said he was “overwhelmed”.

        “It’s a surprise that people remember,” he said. “I never expected anything like this. It is a great honour and I’m very pleased.”

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