An Age or More Ago
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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