He was dubbed the 'mad piper', but as Bill Millin stepped from the landing craft and strode towards the blood-drenched sand of Sword Beach, it was bravery, loyalty and comradeship that spurred him on.

His sodden kilt swinging and his bagpipes blasting, the son of a Glasgow police officer, born in Canada and raised in Shettleston, cut a remarkable figure. So at odds with the mayhem around him, the German snipers could scarcely believe their eyes and, convinced he was 'mad', they turned their attention to picking off others.

Personal piper to Lord Lovat – an integral figure on D-Day - Piper Millin famously played his bagpipes for Allied troops as they stormed Sword Beach despite coming under heavy fire from German forces.

Soon his remarkable bravery will be remembered in what is likely to be one of the most touching moments in the forthcoming 80th anniversary D-Day commemorations.

A series of events to mark the Normandy landings of 6 June, 1944, will take place across the UK, France and in cities around the world including a heart-tugging tribute to the Scot who marched to war wearing a kilt and armed only with his pipes and sgian-dubh.

Lord Lovat’s brigade of Commandos had gone ashore near Colleville, having – perhaps rashly – discarded their helmets at the last moment and put on their distinctive green berets instead, regimental cap badges gleaming.

The Herald: Bill Millin played his pipes on the Normandy beachBill Millin played his pipes on the Normandy beach (Image: Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)

Piper Millin, just 21 years old at the time, followed his commander, his kilt swirling in icy water that reached his armpits. While his comrades clutched their weapons high, he held aloft his bagpipes.

One Commando took a bullet in the face. Another was hit and disappeared into the water.

As Piper Millin struggled to navigate the wet sand strewn with bodies, Lovat issued a strict directive: "Give us 'Highland Laddie', man!". 

He followed it with a string of familiar pipe tunes, a bizarre episode under orders from Lovat, that caused him to later recall: "That sounded rather ridiculous to me to play the bagpipes and entertain people just like on Brighton sands in peacetime.

"Anyway, I started the pipes up, and marched up and down.”

He added: "Lord Lovat said this was going to be the greatest invasion in the history of warfare and he wanted the bagpipes leading it." 

He continued to play as Lord Lovat and 1st Special Services Brigade covered 10km to Pegasus Bridge, which they proudly crossed to the sound of the pipes. Twelve men died on the march, most shot by snipers.

Yet fellow soldiers would later recall the impact of Piper Millin's efforts. 

"I shall never forget hearing the skirl of Bill Millin’s pipes," said one D-Day veteran, Tom Duncan.

"It is hard to describe the impact it had. It gave us a great lift and increased our determination.

"As well as the pride we felt, it reminded us of home and why we were there fighting for our lives and those of our loved ones.”

While Bill himself recalled how, despite being unarmed and an easy target for the enemy, he survived - captured German snipers later explained they did not shoot at him because they thought he was crazy.

Years later, Bill played his bagpipes at Lord Lovat's funeral in 1995. He survived until 2010, when he died, aged 88.

On June 6, as part of the 80th anniversary commemorations at Sword Beach, Piper Alex Smith, 21, of 103 Rgt RA Pipes and Drums Association will pay tribute to Piper Millin by walking the same 10km route from Sword Beach to Pegasus Bridge.

Bill's son John, and grandson Jacob, will also play their pipes, while members of the Millin family carry a ‘lamp of peace’ - similar lanterns will be lit across the country, echoed by large beacons a key sites in towns and cities.

John, who has recently played his pipes every morning for ten days in tribute to his father, said: “Many of his friends died on Sword Beach and he witnessed their death as he played his pipes along the shoreline to Pegasus Bridge.

The Herald: Piper Bill Millin pictured at his home in Dawlish, Devon, with bagpipesPiper Bill Millin pictured at his home in Dawlish, Devon, with bagpipes (Image: PA images)

“His post war years were dedicated to the memory of his fallen comrades and to all armed forces who gave all for the freedom we enjoy today.

“The soldiers, sailors, airmen and merchant seamen of all the allied countries deserve our recognition and respect for their sacrifice.”

At 9.10pm on June 6  at locations in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff, and cities around the world including Washington DC to Auckland in New Zealand, Ottawa, Paris, Canberra, Brussels, Athens, Amsterdam, Oslo, Warsaw and Prague, a mass pipe performance will pay poignant tribute to him and all who took part in the D-Day offensive.