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Belmont Club

An Age or More Ago

June 4th, 2014 - 4:43 pm

Bill Millin was the Piper of the 1st Special Service Brigade on June 6, 1944. The following is part of his personal account of D-Day and his role in the relief of Pegasus Bridge.

Then Lovat said to me, “Right, Piper, start the Pipes again.” Well, we got to Bénouville. I had to stop again because we were under fire there and we couldn’t get down the main street. We were taking shelter behind the low wall to the right of the entrance to the village, and Colonel Mills-Roberts of 6 Commando – he was across the road looking round his side of the wall. So then he came dashing across to me and said, “Right, Piper, play us down the main street.” So he wanted me to run. I said, “No, I won’t be running. I will just play them as usual.” So I Piped them in, and they all followed behind me and through the village and then stopped.

I was Piping Blue Bonnets Over The Border at that time again. Then a shell hit the church on the left and we all stopped, and two Commandos ran into the church to see if it had hit the snipers there. Then I looked round and the Commandos and throwing hand grenades in through the windows of the houses. Then I continued along the road and there was a lot of white dust with the noise and the explosions and everything. So at the end of the village, I stopped there and then Lovat came up to me and he said, “Well, we are almost at the bridges. About another half a mile. So start your Pipes here and continue along this road and then swing round to your left. Then it’s a straight road down to the bridges.” Well, I started Piping, continued along the road, eyes looking this way, looking – no sign of snipers. I had begun to become conscious of snipers by this time. Then turned round left and there is a group of Commandos sitting on the rails outside the Mairie, and I noticed they were the French Commandos so I recognised their faces anyway. Turned round left and then I could see the bridges about 200 yards down the road and a pall of black smoke over the bridges and the sound of mortars bursting. So I kept Piping down the road. Lovat was behind me and when I came to the bridges, I stopped across the road from a café. A café on the right hand side of the road at the bridge…

Lovat passed and he – this Airborne Officer – approached us and Lovat and the Officer shook hands and started to discuss the situation. Then Lovat came to me and said, “Right, Piper, we are crossing over.” So I start, walking, put the Pipes up. This time we are walking over. We can hear the shrapnel, whatever it was, hitting the sides – metal sides – of the bridge. Well, when we got almost to the other side I started up the Pipes. Coming off the bridge, I stopped again because Lovat put his hand up, the indication was to stop. So I stopped, swung the bagpipes on my shoulder and he said, “Another 200 yards along this road, Piper, there is another bridge but we won’t have the protection that we have here because it’s not a metal-sided bridge, it’s railings” as he called them, “and when you get there, no matter what the situation, just continue over. Don’t stop.” So I struck up the Pipes and marched along, merrily along the road and he was walking behind me and others strung out behind. I was still playing Blue Bonnets Over The Border and we came to the bridge. I could see across the bridge, and there were two Airborne chaps dug in on the other side of the bridge and they were frantically indicating to me and pointing out to the sides of the river that it was under fire, sniper fire, and whatever. So I then looked round at Lovat and he indicated to me by his hand, carry on across. So, I kept Piping but it was the longest bridge I ever Piped across, but I got safely over and shook hands with the two Airborne chaps in the slit trench. Then Lovat got across and then at this point an Airborne Officer – a tall Airborne Officer – approached us from across the road, held his hand out to Lovat and said, “We are very pleased to see you, old boy.” And Lovat said, “Aye, we are very pleased to see you, old boy,” and looking at his watch, “sorry, we are two and a half minutes late.” We weren’t two and a half minutes late. We were just over an hour late, because we should have been there about twelve o’clock and it was now after one.

Millin’s pipes were commemorated at the dedication of a statute at Pegasus Bridge on June 8, 2012.

A magpie in Picardy
Told me secret things—
Of the music in white feathers,
And the sunlight that sings
And dances in deep shadows—
He told me with his wings.

He told me that in Picardy,
An age ago or more,
While all his fathers still were eggs,
These dusty highways bore
Brown, singing soldiers marching out
Through Picardy to war.

He said that still through chaos
Works on the ancient plan,
And two things have altered not
Since first the world began—
The beauty of the wild green earth
And the bravery of man.


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Top Rated Comments   
How time flies. What amazes me is that we're nearly as far away in time from WWII as WWII was to the time of the American Civil War.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
In some regiments in the mess when the first toast is given "To the Sovereign" an officer may still be seen to pass his wine glass over a glass of water. Drinking to "the king over the water" is now just an affectation as there has been no Stuart Pretender for over 200 years.

Interesting that the re-enactors had to include women in faux period costumes. The narrative demands it. It becomes very hard for even those who want to to learn history.

If the Scots vote for independence what will happen to the remaining Highland units? The current Guards trace their lineage back to Monck's contribution to Cromwell's New Model Army. Read that again. The most senior and prestigious units in the British army trace their lineage back to the forces that defeated the Crown in the Civil War. Perhaps the units will remain, as the British kept Ghurkhas after the independence of India.

There are three indisputable facts about war.
1) War is a terrible thing. It exists as crime does because of human flaws and failures. Those flaws may be called the evils that are expressed in mass violence or war.

2) Resisting the terrors of war demands courage intelligence self discipline and unselfishness. These have been called virtues.

3) Surviving a war and having a chance to rebuild after calls upon every resource a society can muster. The reason that the burden has fallen on the young adult men and those in positions of authority and respect are that doing less or attempting other responses, isolation or amazon or mercenary or appeasement, does not work. Societies that attempted such approaches are the provence of archeologists. Also efforts to drive the troops, that is to say the young men and a cadre of experienced veterans and professional officers, through deceit fail not just in theory but in practice.

The Scotties followed Lord Lovat to the bridge because he walked with the Piper. Their fathers had followed their officers into the fire of the machine guns at the Somme. An army cannot tolerates the desertion of Bergdahl, and more it cannot survive the dishoesty with which his conduct was described. I do not say that mercy cannot be extended in individual cases as President Lincoln sought to find a way to pardon Civil War "leg cases", as he called reports of troops who were carried away by their legs to the safety behind the lines. If Obama and his team had honestly stated that he was recovering a troubled soldier whose conduct may have been dishonorable or merely foolish, then there would have been no protest about that. The five Taliban released are another matter.

The troops in every army fight for each other and something just a bit above that. By deliberately debasing the perception of their service and by using this time to in rapid fire inject women homosexuals illegal aliens and next transgenders into the units, while publicly using them as a dishonestly manipulated backdrop to his defiance of Congress over Gitmo, Obama has broken all but the most coercive bonds he has over the military.

The issue is not the enlistment of non-citizens seeking to qualify for naturalization. Enlistment was always a path to citizenship, and has remained so especially for Filipinos but also others. The problem is with the brazen use of the policy to show contempt for Congress and the legal ties that make the military a community and combat more than just a rude brawl. Under Obama the troops cannot trust the leaders or each other, and that may be just the way Obama likes it.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Over 20 years ago I recall seeing a TV documentary about those who took Pegasus Bridge.

When they captured it they found a small artillery piece ,mounted on the bridge, and delighted with their new toy, started firing it at suspected locations of German troops.

One of the commandos decided that since things seemed to be well in hand, he'd make some tea. And he just had the first pot brewed up when they fired that cannon again and sent a mess of dust and dirt cascading down into his teapot; he was quite distressed.

People who play bagpipes and brew tea in the midst of a battle. Odd.

The next morning a Spitfire flew over and observed a prearranged ground signal that indicated the bridge was in British hands. I am a ham radio operator and collect old radios, and I am constantly amazed at how bad communications were at that time, especially ground-to-air.

21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (46)
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21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
"More important is the silly posturing by the United States Government, threatening Thailand, along with what might be the most idiotic US Ambassador ever, anywhere."

This comment took 15 minutes of my time thanks to the disrespect PJ Media shows for it's readers with this infernal "website".

Multiply that by the number readers...

Isn't it about time for a boycott, since repeated pleadings have been futile?
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
HERCULES INVICTUS

The bagpipes skirl, but in truth nothing really changes. In the third century BC the people of the new Roman republic accepted the view that they were of Trojan lineage, that the god Heracles had founded the city of Rome, and that Aeneas and Achilles had fathered Romulus and Remus. This acceptance of the Greek view of the world, and Rome’s place in that Greek world, put Rome in direct conflict with Carthage, whom the Greeks despised as barbarians. This conflict led to the eventual destruction of Carthage, and the eventual destruction of the Roman republic as well. Yet who would have thought that the Greek myth of Heracles driving the cattle of Geryon south through Italy and thus to Pallanthium, the site of a future Rome, would lead to the world we live in today.

Hercules Invictus
How gods laugh as they inflict us
With the thought that we could understand the world
Though we wonder and we labor
Neither arquebus nor saber
Ever answered questions while the bagpipes skirled
For the stars remain in silence
As they look upon the violence
Of the salted cities midst the women’s cries
Yes we think we are exalted
And we never can be faulted
But the gods know we are smart but seldom wise

21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
tc said: How time flies. What amazes me is that we're nearly as far away in time from WWII as WWII was to the time of the American Civil War.

I do that kind of math more and more often now, makes me feel as old as Elrond. When I was a kid in say the 1960s, that was 40 years from the 1920s, which was ancient history. But those 1960s are themselves now *50* years in the past! And I was there, Frodo, ...

hb said: It would be greatly fitting if, when Obama takes the podium, all soldiers in the audience do an "about face" and turn their back to him.

Maybe, but that is really not optimal for aiming.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
The current edition of Naval History has this article for paid subscribers

"The Navy Saved Our Hides"

http://www.usni.org/magazines/navalhistory/2014-05/navy-saved-our-hides

With U.S. soldiers pinned down on Omaha Beach, American destroyers steamed in close to shore, opened fire on German positions, and helped turn the tide of invasion.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
My wife and I visited Normandy three years ago. We spent the night with a woman (a friend of our friend in Paris) who lives in a farmhouse located about a mile behind Omaha Beach. Earlier in the war her father was abducted by the Nazis and taken into slave labor in Germany. He escaped and made it on foot back to Normandy, and lived in the woods, secretely receiving food from his family. This good lady, then a small child, was in a food line with her mother in town one day a few weeks after D-Day. A large American soldier picked her up and held her - it was Patton. She cried when telling this story to me, because American soldiers saved her nation, her farm, her father, her family.


21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Anybody:

In the front rank on the far right there appears to be a young woman who is carrying her pipes, not playing. Why is that?

And BTW, I love to watch Brits march and the way they bawl out commands.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have had lunch at that cafe by the bridge. In 2006, it was still being run by the woman whose father turned it into an aid station for the paratroopers that morning. She was four years old on D-Day. Millin's pipes are in the museum across the canal.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
And at somewhere I can't readily remember (may well be here for all I remember) I've read accounts supposedly from Germans at the bridge who refused to shoot Millin because they simply couldn't grasp that he wasn't mad, just doing his duty.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Fascinating story. I imagine the German sniper looking onto the sight of a bagpipe leading a group of soldiers with a certain sense of preternatural awe.

The dynamic is also interesting. Through many a piper has fallen in duty it is the officers behind that are the target of a professional soldier. So they steel one anothers nerves and across they go the piper backed by a column of armed men and those men rallied on by the piper.

No man is alone when he is born nor should he die alone when lock stepped with such airy melodies into the maw of victory or his doom.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well said.

OTOH, I recently heard some comedian remark what glee The Backwoods Revolutionaries must have expressed upon seeing the British being led into battle by a band!
(while simultaneously taking them out)

Not being a student of history, what do I know?

Still like your allusion to how we should live, and die, regardless.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
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