Musicians are nothing if not dedicated, swearing their loyalty to their craft until their dying day… sometimes literally. Perhaps the most famous of these performers were those who made up the eight-piece orchestra of the doomed RMS Titanic; according to witnesses, they kept their string instruments humming until the bitter end. But they weren’t the only ones to play through tragedy.
One musician who doesn’t get his due was Bill Millin, a soldier from Glasgow, Scotland who landed on the beaches of Normandy with fellow soldiers during World War II. Instead of ducking or running, Bill walked slowly, making sure he had a steady hand as he played his bagpipes through the fighting.
Some of his fellow soldiers saw Bill as a heroic figure, while others claimed he had to be insane to continue playing his bagpipes during one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.
Bill Millin of Glasgow, Scotland, was a World War II soldier and the personal bagpipe player to Lord Lovat, a Scottish nobleman. At first, Lord Lovat offered Bill the role of his personal assistant, but Bill declined, insisting that he serve as a bagpiper instead.
The War Office, the predecessor to Britain’s Ministry of Defence, passed an order that banned bagpipes in battle as a precaution against the high casualties seen during World War I. Still, Lord Lovat boasted, “Ah, but that’s the English war office. You and I are both Scottish and that doesn’t apply.” He instructed Bill to keep playing.
The battle was already underway upon landing at Normandy. Bill played the Scottish favorite, “Road To Isles,” and most of his fellow soldiers cheered while they marched into the chaos. One soldier had a different opinion, calling the fearless bagpiper “a mad bastard.” Nevertheless, Bill didn’t quit.
Sometimes in times of distress, we all need a little music to lift us up. For the soldiers in the midst of the Normandy invasion, Bill the “mad piper” was able to do that and more. Thanks for your service, Bill!
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