ONE of the great things about being a press photographer is that you get to meet famous and extraordinary people, such as Second World War hero Bill Millins.
Bill played his bagpipes whilst under fire on D-Day 1944 when the allied forces invaded the beaches in northern France. He began his apparently suicidal serenade immediately upon jumping from the ramp of the landing craft into the icy water on Sword beach.
He struck up with ‘Heiland Laddie’ and continued even as the man behind him was hit and dropped into the sea and sank.
Bill lived out his life in the Devon town of Dawlish where I caught up with him and set up a photograph on the shoreline at Teignmouth.
He was a hero for a special reason; quotes from his colleagues tell of the inspiration he instilled in the soldiers as they ran up the beach to the tune of bills pipes. “I shall never forget hearing the skirl of Bill Millin’s pipes,” said one.
When Bill and his soldiers came to the crossing which later became known as Pegasus Bridge, troops on the other side signalled frantically that it was under sniper fire. Bill was ordered to shoulder his bagpipes and play the commandos over.
“It seemed like a very long bridge,” Bill said afterwards.
Bill was surprised not to have been shot, and he mentioned this to some Germans who had been taken prisoner. They said that they had not shot at him because they thought he had gone off his head. A feat not forgotten in the 1962 Hollywood movie ‘The Longest Day’ starring John Wayne and a host of famous actors.
Bill died in 2010 but the story of his bravery will live on for ever.