Piper Bill Millin

I have put on writing a review for this book but finally I have felt that it needed to be done. Noone had ever left a review on Amazon which I found really strange. So I was the first. Sad then that I could not praise it to the skies!!!!

After reading “Forgotten Voices of D-day” I just had to find something about Piper Millin so I was delighted when I found that he had written his memoirs. This man was a very courageous young man during the Normandy invasion and I was very much looking forward to reading his side of things, his descriptions of Lord Lovat whose personal piper he was and get to “know” the person behind the myth.

So it is with great disappointment that I can not give this book five stars. It lacks some things that I feel a good memoir ought to have. First of all, I had a difficult time getting in to it, because the language was so poor. The grammar jumped back and forth between present and the past. In the same sentence sometimes or in subsequent sentences. It makes for very choppy reading and you don’t understand what the author is up to. Towards the end of the book, the reader is told that Piper wrote a diary and that is probably what he is quoting when he goes in to present tense. But he forgets quotation marks. Where was the editor before the book went in to print? I think the book would still be in print if someone would have sat down with Piper Millin and helped him get a smooth flowing language and transitions in the book. Now it is too amateurish to become a classic. Which is a great pity since it is not often we get to hear a Piper’s version of those important summer months in 1944. His experiences were unique!

Secondly, about language: When the men of Easy Company, 101st Airborne, were shown the TV series “Band of Brothers” that was supposed to be a portrayal of themselves, they were quite shocked at all the swear words and they ALL pointed out that “we didn’t swear like that”. They used other words than we do today. I’m afraid that when Piper Milllin describes the events of the invasion and have people speak, he has all of them using the F word in every single sentence they say. I refuse to believe that educated officers from Britain’s upper classes used that sort of uneducated language. Yes, they were all hardened commandos but at the same time, many had never seen battle before, and I just don’t believe for a second that this particular foul word was used. That is the problem, as all historians are aware of, that people remember wrong, especially when the book is written in the 1990s, 50 years after the event. Sadly, he seems to have used the language in his book, that he heard on the street in the 1990s, instead of the one used back in the time portrayed.

These two language mistakes ruined the reading for me. But you forgive him, and plow through the book because you still want to know what happened to him and the others. You try to ignore the shortcomings. But when you have finished the book, you feel a little bit empty. Because you don’t ever really get to know WHO he really was. He starts the book being up in Achnacarry, Scotland on the demonstration team. But he doesn’t really tell you what his job is. He rather tell you about all the lovemaking he is doing on his days off, when he walks to a remote cottage, to see the 25-26 year-old Fiona. I very soon started wondering, but what about before he joined the Commandos? When was he born? What did he do before? His family? You get bits and pieces here and there through the book but no proper picture. And at the end of the book, he tells how he returns to Scotland to find out that Fiona died a week earlier. What did a healthy woman die of that quickly? Did she attempt an abortion that went wrong? Did she have a miscarriage? Those were my only thoughts since they behaved like bunnies according to him, so what else could it have been? To honour Fiona, he could have explained because now one thinks the worse. And he could have said something about what he did the rest of the war and afterwards. At least, the rest of the war!

So all this said, I think if one accepts it just as it is, one can still get some feel for what his Normandy part was like. It must have been frustrating because he did not really have any other task to do, than to play the pipes. He did that during D-day and no doubt was a great help in keeping the courage up. But soon enough, he would not be allowed to play the pipes since it attracted the Germans’ fire. Wherever he went, people screamed out, don’t you dare play those! So he sat in a foxhole basically doing nothing except being scared like the rest of them, eating food that was not too filling nor too varied, and trying to catch sleep when he could. When he describes a friend or a temporary mate in the foxhole, you know that this person will die within one page. The stories are so sad since everyone else seemed to have a wife waiting, children, girlfriends… Poor Piper Millin must have felt useless really when his piping wasn’t needed. He went around visiting the different commando groups, perhaps it cheered them up? His Colonel from Achnacarry came and offered him to go back to Scotland, but Millin felt obliged to stay, probably because he felt that he had not done enough compared to what the others had to do. He stayed and eventually marched with the 4 Commando, French part. Noone questioned why, it seems, since noone really knew what to do with him after Lord Lovat was critically wounded and sent back to England.

So, poorly written, but still well worth reading since after all this was HIS view of  Normandy and what happened where he was.

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