Pipers of War

Pipers of the Trenches

For over 400 years, Highland fighters have marched into war to the tune of bagpipes. Used to signal tactical movements to troops, the bloodcurdling sound was also a sure way to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies who had never heard such terrifying sounds before. Combine that with wild men running at you with bare knees and it’s sure to give you second thoughts about taking them on. Of course, such a racket drew attention to the unarmed pipers and made for an easy target.

The man standing on the top of the ridge, that's the piper

The man standing on the top of the ridge, that’s the piper

During WWI, the pipers would lead the men over the top of the trenches and into battle where they were easily picked off. Near 1,000 pipers died in that war. Piper Daniel Laidlaw was awarded the Victoria Cross for rallying his men’s morale at the last minute before going over. Under heavy fire and suffering from a gas attack, Laidlaw played “All the Blue Bonnets Over the Border” until he got near the German lines where he was wounded.

Pipes were banned from the frontline in WWII when loss of pipers became too high during the Second Battle of El Alamein. But Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, didn’t care about orders. On Sword Beach during the Normandy landings of 1944, Lord Lovat ordered his personal piper, Bill Millin, to play. Millin protested due to the ban, but Lovat replied, “Ah, but that’s the English War Office. You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn’t apply.” Armed with only his pipes and sgian dubh or ‘black knife’, Millin was the only man during the landings to wear a kilt. Captured German snipers later admitted they didn’t shoot him because they thought he was mad. His actions were immortalized in the film The Longest Day.

Bill Millin surrounded by Lord Lovat's commandos

Bill Millin surrounded by Lord Lovat’s commandos


A to Z blog hop at Patterings.


  1. Tom Threadgill

    Hey, I remember that in The Longest Day. I thought he was crazy, too!

    1. J'nell (Post author)

      I think crazy can sometimes border brave. And then of course there’s good old fashioned just plain crazy. That runs in my family.

  2. Karla Akins

    Wow, I had no idea. I wonder if they painted their faces blue AND played the pipes?

    I had the pleasure of learning to play long, long ago. I don’t remember much about how to play but I do remember the breathing is very different with the bag pipes. I’ve always loved the sound of them.

    1. J'nell (Post author)

      I love the sound too! There’s probably no way I could play them because they require a lot of blowing stamina. I play the flute, but that’s nothing in comparison. That’s so cool that you learned! I’m going to tell everyone that I know someone who plays the pipes.

  3. Kathleen Rouser

    Was also thinking was Millin brave or crazy? The sense of honor and courage were definitely different back then. Don’t you think? Interesting post. I always learn something new when I
    read your blog, J’nell!

    1. J'nell (Post author)

      I love keeping you informed! Millin probably was a bit of both, but he’s a Scot in the military. I would expect nothing less.


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