The D-Day Piper has put down his chanter

 

I don’t know why, but Brits write the best obits. From the recent Economist, a tribute to Bill Mullin, the D-Day piper. An excerpt:

He was ordering now, as they waded up Sword Beach, in that drawly voice of his: “Give us a tune, piper.” Mr Millin thought him a mad bastard. The man beside him, on the point of jumping off, had taken a bullet in the face and gone under. But there was Lovat, strolling through fire quite calmly in his aristocratic way, allegedly wearing a monogrammed white pullover under his jacket and carrying an ancient Winchester rifle, so if he was mad Mr Millin thought he might as well be ridiculous too, and struck up “Hielan’ Laddie”. Lovat approved it with a thumbs-up, and asked for “The Road to the Isles”. Mr Millin inquired, half-joking, whether he should walk up and down in the traditional way of pipers. “Oh, yes. That would be lovely.”

Three times therefore he walked up and down at the edge of the sea. He remembered the sand shaking under his feet from mortar fire and the dead bodies rolling in the surf, against his legs. For the rest of the day, whenever required, he played.

It’s the best obit you’ll read today. Good as it is, the last two grafs are a reminder that writers are sometimes best when they get out of the way, and just tell the tale. Maybe that’s why the Brits do obits well.

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  1. Profile Photo Contributor
    @AdamFreedman
    James Lileks: I don’t know why, but Brits write the best obits.

    So true. I spent two years as a student in England, and I often visit extended family there. When I’m there, I always start the day with the obits. Puts an extra spring in my step, it does.

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  2. Profile Photo Member
    @tabularasa

    Sad to see what’s happened to British society, but some things live on, including apparently these wonderful, understated obits. Could have been written by George Orwell.

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  3. Profile Photo Member
    @JohnDavey

    What is it about advancing age that compels us to check the obituaries more frequently? Seems to me that I started reading them more intently when I hit 33. Of course, that is also the year our first child was born….

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  4. Profile Photo Member
    @ParisParamus

    Mr. Lileks, bless you. I agree with your proposition; the only question is whether its true in some objective sense, or true because we are able to view British society from a distance, and something in it, including its change/decline pushes a special button in our minds about the decline/change of our own. Which makes me think of the BBC I remember from as recently as the 1980’s and early 1990’s; the late (Alfred) Alistair Cooke; and how these days, all that resembles, or evokes these things are the podcasts of John Derbyshire. ;- (

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  5. Profile Photo Inactive
    @heathermc

    Terrific.

    By the way, there is a new book, reviewed by Martin Bright, in Literary Review, entitled, “My Enemy’s Enemy Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam, author Mark Curtis; pubed by Serpent’s Tail… VERY interessstttting!!!

    To quote the reviewer: ” (in the 1990s).. It was during this period that I first began covering security matters for the Observer: it really was quite extraordinary that it was possible to speak to representatives of Islamic revolutionary movements from across North Africa and the Middle East….”

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    @PatrickShanahan

    The reason the Brits write better obits is simple: the view it as a literary form. We view it as “news”. Distasteful news at that.

    I am more struck by the scene described in those opening lines. There are some remarkable American D-Day tales, but this is just so damned British. Quirky, verging on madness, yet precisely the thing that was needed. The last vestiges of British Victorianism died when WWII ended. Shame.

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  7. Profile Photo Editor
    @RobLong
    anon_academic: If you read the comments at the Economist story you’ll see a link to a Telegraph story about a French piper’s club that is trying to put up a statue at one of the bridges he piped across. The club’s page is here. I sent $20 in part for the memory of Millin himself and in part in the interest of wanting to support the efforts of any Frenchmen who 65 years after the fact are still expressing gratitude that les Anglo-Saxons gave them their country back. · Aug 31 at 12:20pm

    Wow. Goosebumps. Seriously.

    Thanks, anon_academic. I went there too and kicked in $20 myself.

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  8. Profile Photo Inactive
    @heathermc

    If you want to put a spring in your step, there is nothing better than a great bagpiping tune! I was in the West Highlands this June, and would like to mention 2 bands: “Clanadonia” (hippie/wildman great stuff, I heard them first on the bridge at Edinburgh); and the Mid Argyll Pipe Band. The latter (also great drumming), has a very nice DVD, “Blackwood and Hickory.” Splendid.

    And I admit it, I am freakish about WWII and the Military. The Daily Telegraph has a compilation of Military Obituaries. Also Splendid.

    Did I mention that I was a librarian??

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    @WhiskeySam

    I read this in my copy last night; what a tremendous account and testament to this man!

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  10. Profile Photo Member
    @anonacademic

    If you read the comments at the Economist story you’ll see a link to a Telegraph story about a French piper’s club that is trying to put up a statue at one of the bridges he piped across. The club’s page is here. I sent $20 in part for the memory of Millin himself and in part in the interest of wanting to support the efforts of any Frenchmen who 65 years after the fact are still expressing gratitude that les Anglo-Saxons gave them their country back.

    • #10

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