Pipefest Normandy 2011

What a memorable day in Normandy, today June 4, following the footsteps of D-Day piper Bill Millin!

First thing, after a lovely breakfast at our hotel, we drove over to “Sword Beach” where Bill Millin played the pipes for his fellow soldiers under heaviest possible enemy fire, way back in 1944! It was a very emotional experience this morning, standing on the same beach, with hundreds pipers and drummers, a ceremony so emotional indeed that one of the guys, whilst piping, was struck by a heart attack. An ambulance took the poor guy to hospital, and none of us has heard of him yet, we were all too busy piping all day.

From “Sword Beach” we moved on to Bénouville, playing as massed band at the Memorial, right in front of the original bridge, the one Bill Millin crossed, pipes up, under enemy fire! Of course we stepped onto that same bridge to play a tune … pictures are due to follow, as soon as possible.

This afternoon, we had a big parade through Caen, in front of thousands of people down in the streets, enjoying the music and the sight! Massed band again to finish it off, outside the huge town hall, in front of special guests Bill Millin’s son and his granddaughter!

Unfortunately, the same problem occurred again, same as this morning, too many pipers not knowing the tunes, nor how to end with a clean stop! What a shame, the level some people are playing at, completely unaware they just ruin a whole performance! You don’t become a piper by just putting on a kilt!

We finally had a last, more or less improvised performance this evening in the medieval castle in Caen, an absolutely amazing site!

So, after a very long day, filled with strong impressions, it’s about time to get a couple of hours of sleep, before heading back home to Luxembourg, first thing tomorrow morning!

Finally, special thanks go to my fellowpiper Linda, who did amazingly well, on Sword Beach, in front of Pegasus Bridge, and in the streets of Caen. Can you imagine, she started on the pratice chanter only eight months ago! Great job, Linda, I’m proud of you.

And to finish of, let me thank Bob Mathieson and the people at “Kiltcentre” in Hamilton, Scotland … today was the first time I was wearing my new Lionheart kilt. You wouldn’t imagine how many people here in Caen, pipers and spectators asked me what tartan Linda and I are wearing, and where we purchased our beautiful kilts! (www.thekiltcentre.com)

I’ll put the pictures on, once back home … you’ll find out for yourselves.

7 responses to “Pipefest Normandy 2011

  1. Hi Gilles,

    Greetings from one of the Belgian pipers you met at the castle of Caen. I agree with you about the problems that occurs at the Pipefest. I’ve heard it seems to be usual with such massed band ceremony. Finally, this first Pipefest left me however very good memories.

  2. Hi Didier,
    good to hear from you!
    I don’t believe there is a “usual mess” at Pipefests, or at “massed band ceremonies”.
    Last year in summer, I was one of the 3000 pipers and drummers at the Pipefest Edinburgh, all the way down for some three hours from the castle to Holyrood. We didn’t encounter any problems at all, everything was perfectly organized, and we were updated and informed about what was going on, about which tunes what block was supposed to play, and so on and so forth!
    This year, in the streets of Caen, I felt ashame for what the thousands of spectators had to listen too, and look at! At some stage this event reminded me of German Carnival parades … and that’s definetely not what piping is about!

  3. Hi Gilles,

    Maybe you’re right. It was my first Pipefest and I only repeat what I’ve heard. Hope in fact these problems are not usual.

    I’v some news about Terry, the Welsh piper who collapsed on Sword Beach. His pipe band told one of our member he is in good humour but will need to have a heart bypass operation. The band has returned to Wales but Terry remains in Caen Central Hospital for now with his Son by his side. So he will be as good as new after the operation.

    • Hi Didier,

      I do hope as well that similar problems will not become usual standard procedures, but will remain the exception! If not, the whole piping community is going to uffer tremendously from such “performances”!

      And thank you for letting me know that Terry is recovering, although he will have to go through heavy surgery! Both Linda, my fellow piper and I do wish him all the best!


  4. Hello Gilles,
    I also enjoyed the pipefest in general, although I ached in places that I didn’t know existed on Sunday!
    I play the drums with the St Andrews Pipe Band from Hamble Le Rice, which is where LordLovat’s force embarked for D-Day.
    Returning on the ferry,I composed a few verses about the experience, and although not Shakespear or Wordsworth you might like to read it.

    Bill Millin’s Memorial Pipefest, Normandy June 3rd 2011

    As hornets swarm, they gathered there, drones permeating morning air,
    Then, with chanters clear and strong, harmonizing into song
    They joined together, there to play and praise the piper of D-Day,
    Bill Millin, who, on Sword Beach played, bold, seemingly unafraid.

    Today, nobody standing there could be unmoved as, loud and clear
    The strains of “Highland Laddie” rose above the sound of breakers; those
    Which, Sixty Seven years long past had been drowned out by war’s shrill blast,
    And a young piper came to be part of the D-Day history.

    Two hundred plus, they marched with pride, drums beating as the ebbing tide
    Exposed the sandy, deadly space that Bill the piper bravely paced,
    Defying instincts to survive, miraculously still alive,
    Unscathed, still playing, marching through this man-made hell in fullest view.

    And then, recalling famous march to Benouville, the final charge
    Through sniper fire to reinforce the airborne men who stayed the course
    And held the bridge, despite great loss, immortalized as ‘Pegasus’;
    As Bill marched over, playing on, with steadfast determination.

    The massed bands played the very tunes that Bill had played down in the dunes,
    And here again, Bill’s son played too, remembering a father, who
    Had lifted tired spirits then, was cheered by all the fighting men,
    By playing those familiar airs, comforting, allaying cares.

    On to Caen to play again, the Pipefest massed bands, girls and men,
    All ages, dressed in Highland style, bright tartans, bonnets, banners, while
    Some had ponies on parade, enjoying public accolade,
    Who cheered and clapped, were truly moved; Bill must surely have approved.

    Then finally, sun shining down, the big parade around the town,
    Through cheering, smiling happy crowds, culminating in a proud
    Finale with the gracious Mayor, and speeches, music filled the air,
    Till finally, the deed now done, some welcome food, relaxation.

    And was this Pipefest a success? The answer – absolutely -“Yes”!
    New friends made. Old bonds renewed, no trouble here, no foreign feuds,
    Those things are left for politicians, ignored rightly by these musicians,
    Whose common love is to be found in full within the bagpipe’s sound.

    So now, in Bill’s celestial space, he surely now will find solace
    And be content that in his name, a host of pipers played and came
    To share with him that tie which binds and joins forever hearts and minds
    Of all, who without reservation, are members of the bagpipe nation.


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