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Old 08-25-2010, 03:53 AM
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Default Bill Millin, Scottish D-Day Piper, Dies at 88

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/20/wo...llin.html?_r=1

LONDON — Bill Millin, a Scottish bagpiper who played highland tunes as his fellow commandos landed on a Normandy beach on D-Day and lived to see his bravado immortalized in the 1962 film “The Longest Day,” died on Wednesday in a hospital in the western England county of Devon. He was 88.

The cause was complications from a stroke, his family said.

Mr. Millin was a 21-year-old private in Britain’s First Special Service Brigade when his unit landed on the strip of coast the Allies code-named Sword Beach, near the French city of Caen at the eastern end of the invasion front chosen by the Allies for the landings on June 6, 1944.

By one estimate, about 4,400 Allied troops died in the first 24 hours of the landings, about two-thirds of them Americans.

The young piper was approached shortly before the landings by the brigade’s commanding officer, Brig. Simon Fraser, who as the 15th Lord Lovat was the hereditary chief of the Clan Fraser and one of Scotland’s most celebrated aristocrats. 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. The scene provided an emotional high point in “The Longest Day.”

In later years Mr. Millin told the BBC he did not regard what he had done as heroic. When Lord Lovat insisted that he play, he said, “I just said ‘O.K.,’ and got on with it.” He added: “I didn’t notice I was being shot at. When you’re young, you do things you wouldn’t dream of doing when you’re older.”

He said he found out later, after meeting Germans who had manned guns above the beach, that they didn’t shoot him “because they thought I was crazy.”

Other British commandos cheered and waved, Mr. Millin recalled, though he said he felt bad as he marched among ranks of wounded soldiers needing medical help. But those who survived the landings offered no reproach.

“I shall never forget hearing the skirl of Bill Millin’s pipes,” one of the commandos, Tom Duncan, said years later. “As well as the pride we felt, it reminded us of home, and why we were fighting there for our lives and those of our loved ones.”

From the beach, Private Millin moved inland with the commandos to relieve British paratroopers who had seized a bridge near the village of Ouistreham that was vital to German attempts to move reinforcements toward the beaches. As the commandos crossed the bridge under German fire, Lord Lovat again asked Private Millin to play his pipes.

In 2008, French bagpipers started a fund to erect a statue of Mr. Millin near the landing site, but the fund remains far short of its $125,000 goal.

Bill Millin was born in Glasgow on July 14, 1922, the son of a policeman, and lived with his family in Canada as a child before returning to Scotland.

After the war, he worked on Lord Lovat’s estate near Inverness, but found the life too quiet and took a job as a piper with a traveling theater company. In the late 1950s, he trained in Glasgow as a psychiatric nurse and eventually settled in Devon, retiring in 1988. He visited the United States several times, lecturing on his D-Day experiences.

In 1954 he married Margaret Mary Dowdel. A widower, he is survived by their son, John.

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