Royal Navy sailors from the Faslane Patrol Boat Squadron recently took part in a charity event to commemorate one of the legendary incidents of the Second World War.
On Wednesday, May 7, patrol boat HMS Tracker helped transport an exact replica of the bagpipes used by Piper Bill Millin during the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944.
The event was just one leg of an epic maritime odyssey which will see the pipes transported from the Commando memorial at Spean Bridge, near Fort William, to Coleville-Montgomery in Normandy.
Bill Millin was the Commando-trained piper who played during the D-Day invasion of Normandy and had the distinction of not only being the only person to play bagpipes during the landings, but also the only person who took part wearing a kilt.
Landing at Sword beach with 1 Special Service Brigade, Bill was ordered by his Commanding Officer, Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, to play something rousing for the troops.
When Bill reminded his Commander that regulations forbid playing of pipes in the front line, Lovat is reported to have said: “Ah, but that’s the English War Office. You and I are both Scottish and that doesn’t apply.”
Piper Bill duly played during the invasion as transport ships spilled their troops onto the beach and enemy bullets flew around him.
Speaking with captured German snipers after the invasion, Bill recalled asking them why they hadn’t shot him. Surely he was a clear enough target, playing “Highland Laddie” and armed only with the traditional sgian-dubh? The German prisoners replied that they hadn’t wanted to fire on him as they had simply assumed he was crazy.
On June 6 this year, Bill’s son, John Millin, will present the replica pipes to the mayor of Coleville-Montgomery. But before then they will be transported south by a variety of vessels, including privately owned yachts, fishing boats and ferries.
The last part of the journey will be undertaken by some of the original “little ships” of the Dunkirk evacuation.
HMS Tracker participated on May 7 when they moved the pipes from Ardrishaig to Stranraer.
Tracker’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Edward Munns, said: “It was an honour and a privilege to be able to support an event such as this, commemorating the bravery of those who landed on D-Day.”
On sailing from Ardrishaig, the Ship’s Company laid a wreath off the coast of Arran in memory of those who lost their lives during D-Day landing rehearsals in Inchmarnok Water.
The vessel was also honoured to host 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles veteran John Shanahan and Piper Carl Wainwright upon their arrival at Stranraer.
The commemorative event has been organised by charities: D-Day Revisited, The Royal British Legion, and The Royal British Legion Scotland.
Press Release, May 14, 2014; Image: Royal Navy