Monday, June 06, 2005

D-Day -- 6 June

The image is of a double commemorative stamp set showing an image of the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944. The soldier shown on the right is Bill Millin, Lord Lovat's personal piper. You can see a bit of his bass drone and cords just on the left side of his head. Millin was the only piper who played on the beach that day although there were other pipers present. And there were a couple of Royal Navy pipers who played from their ships as the landings started.

Cornelius Ryan in "The Longest Day" describes the moments depicted on the stamps and those immediately succeeding:

As the commandos touched down on Sword, Lord Lovat's piper, William Millin, plunged off his landing craft into water up to his armpits. He could see smoke piling up from the beach ahead and hear the crump of exploding mortar shels. As Millin floundered toward the shore, Lovat shouted at him, "Give us 'Highland Laddie', man!" Waist-deep in the water, Millin put the mouthpiece to his lips and splashed on through the surf, the pipes keening crazily. At the water's edge, oblivious to the gunfire, he halted and, parading up and down along the beach, piped the commandos ashore. The men streamed past him, and mingling with the whine of bullets and the screams of shells came the wild skirl of the pipes as Millin now played "The Road to the Isles." "That's the stuff, Jock, " yelled a commando. Said another, "Get down, you mad bugger."

Exciting stuff. But not written by a piper. If you are waist-deep in water you can't play the pipes: the chanter would be submerged. You could sound drones and blow bubbles but that's about it. The movie rather more accurately shows him starting to play at about the knee-deep point. (Although, whoever edited the sound rather less-accurately has him starting the tune before he's even finished striking-in the drones.)

The pipes Millin played that day can be seen at the National War Museum of Scotland.

Millin even got a mention in President Reagan's classic address at the U.S. Rangers Memorial at Pointe du Hoc on the 40th commemoration of D-Day. You can read (and see and hear) it here. Give it a listen if you have a few moments. No one gives this sort of tribute like Reagan.