6 June 2024

The 80th anniversary of D-Day won’t pass quietly in Canberra

| James Coleman
Join the conversation

Stephen Ladd will perform by the Stone of Remembrance outside the memorial’s front steps. Photo: James Coleman.

Today, the 6th of June, marks the 80th anniversary of D-Day, one of the most important days of the 20th century, when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy and began the liberation of France.

More than 24,000 troops from 12 allied countries, including more than 3000 Australians, landed under heavy gunfire soon after midnight that day.

Rallying the British troops was 21-year-old Bill Millin, known as ‘Piper Bill’, who flouted the English War Office’s stringent regulations by accompanying his comrades onto the beach while playing ‘Road to the Isles’ and ‘Highland Laddie’ on his bagpipes.

In the aftermath, he reportedly said English law “doesn’t apply” to the Scottish.

man playing bagpipes

Bill Millin with his bagpipes in 1944. Private Millin died on 18 August 2010 (aged 88). Photo: Capt JL Evans (Imperial War Museum).

To mark the anniversary of Millin’s bravery, hundreds of pipers will belt out the same tunes at memorials across the world, from 9 pm local time. Stephen Ladd is carrying the beacon for Canberra.

READ ALSO Australian D-Day legend finds ‘resting place’ at the War Memorial

A long-time member of Canberra City Pipes & Drums, he has more than 600 Last Post ceremonies and Dawn Service bagpipe marches to his name. He’s also a Detective Inspector with ACT Policing of 22 years, and plays for the Australian Federal Police (AFP) Pipes and Drums band.

“The great highland bagpipes are actually called the ‘pipes of war’, and that’s because military units – particularly those in Scotland, but they branched out into the UK military units – would have pipers lead their battalions into battle at the front,” he says.

Stephen first picked the bagpipes up aged 21, “which is probably too old to actually start learning an instrument and being good at it”.

He might be a born and bred local, but the Scottish blood flows thick. His grandfather hailed from Inverness in northern Scotland as a proud member of Clan Mackenzie.

“I remember him fondly walking up and down the hallway of his house in Newcastle playing pipes,” Stephen says.

His grandmother once lamented it was disappointing none of their grandchildren had picked up the skill, so Stephen decided to take one for the team and ask his grandfather to teach him.

“And so he taught me over a number of months but a short time later, passed away. He never actually got to hear me play bagpipes.”

Stephen has played since 21. Photo: James Coleman.

He still has his grandfather’s set, and will honour them with a performance at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in a few weeks. Stephen is one of 25 members of the Canberra City Pipes and Drums band to be invited to play at the Tattoo.

He says it will be just as great an honour to perform on D-Day.

READ ALSO New documentary records Cobargo’s recovery from the Black Summer bushfires

“I think all these commemorative services really strike at the heart of what it is to be Australian and to be progressing and keeping the tradition alive with the younger generations. Sooner or later, you have to imagine there’ll be another war of some description, apart from the ones already going, and if we don’t remember what has gone before, we’ll make the same mistakes again.”

Public attendance is welcome at the D-Day commemoration. The 15-minute performance will begin at 9 pm at the Stone of Remembrance on the Parade Ground.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), Thursday 6 July 1944, page 1

AUSTRALIANS IN NORMANDY “The Examiner” Special Service LONDON.-Many individual Australians are doing a wide variety of jobs in the Normandy beachhead. Among the 1st British nurses to step ashore on the French beaches were several Australians. They include Sister Nancy Kinsella, Melbourne, who landed exactly four years after evacuating from Dunkirk: Sister Ann Swinton, Melbourne; and Sister Heather Kirkwood. Melbourne. All of these are at a casualty clearing station where there are several Sydney doctors, including Major William Campbell, Capt Iven Page (son of Sir Earle Page), Capt. Hugh Pearson, Major Charles Salisbury. Flight-Lieut. C. McBride, Adelaide, is with an R.A.F. administrative branch; and, of course, hundreds of Australians are flying over the beachhead daily.

I don’t disagree with your sentiments, James. Nor do I want to be a pedant. But to imply that 3,000 Australians landed on the beaches of Normandy is stretching the facts. Dr. Peter Stanley states”…Australia, with the great bulk of its forces fighting Japan in the south-west Pacific, took a relatively small part in the operation, but the invasion force included up to about 3,000 Australians. About a dozen Australian soldiers were attached to British army formations, learning the ropes in preparation for amphibious operations in the Pacific later in the war. Some 500 Australian sailors served in dozens of Royal Navy warships, from battleships and corvettes down to motor torpedo boats and landing craft. Several Australians commanded flotillas of tank-landing ships, while others piloted landing craft carrying British and Canadian infantry onto the beaches. Australia’s main contribution was in the air. Between 2,000 and 2,500 Australian airmen served in dozens of RAF and ten RAAF squadrons of all kinds.” So the number of Australians that actually landed on D-Day was quite small.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.