Historic Windermere vessel hosts D-Day anniversary tribute

Bagpipe tribute on Windermere to commemorate 80th anniversary of D-Day

Published: 28th May 2024
Categories: Media Release

A poignant tribute will take place onboard one of Windermere’s historic cruise vessels as Cumbria commemorates the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings. At 8am on the morning of Wednesday, June 5, the day before national D-Day commemorations, a lone piper will play on the deck of MV Swan.

(Left) MV Swan on Windermere. (Right) Bagpiper Richard Cowie

This will be the penultimate performance of ten taking place over 10 days at locations around Cumbria to honour the memory of Bill Millin – the piper who famously strode along Sword Beach on D-Day in 1944 playing tunes to bolster the moral of Allied troops as they landed and to confound German forces.

The bagpipe tributes have been organised by Cumbria Freemasons in conjunction with the Royal Pageant Master of Buckingham Palace.

The D-Day landings saw Allied Forces mount a large-scale invasion of Nazi-occupied France which ultimately tipped the course of the Second World War in the Allies’ favour.

Bill Bewley, Chairman of Windermere Lake Cruises and head of Cumbria Freemasons, says: “This will be a very special event and a very important one too. D-Day was a defining moment in our history and it is only right that we commemorate it and remember all those who took part. Windermere Lake Cruises is honoured to be involved in helping to stage this part of the wider, national commemorations.”

MV Swan was launched on June 10, 1938. It’s one of the best loved original “steamers” in the Windermere Lake Cruises’ fleet. When she first took to the waters of Windermere Neville Chamberlain was Prime Minister. It was also the year gas masks were issued to the civilian population as the Second World War loomed.

The piper is Richard Cowie, a member of Cumbria Freemasons, and his 10 performances will take place on 10 separate days beginning on May 28 and finishing on Thursday, June 6, D-Day. The tribute is part of the nationwide programme of displays of remembrance which started 80 days in advance of D-Day.

Starting at exactly 8am each morning, Richard will perform the "haunting" song highland laddie at locations including Kendal, Milnthorpe, Ambleside, Penrith and on MV Swan on Windermere in Bowness Bay.

Neil Dixon from Cumbria Freemasons says: “We are honoured to be orchestrating this event of national significance, in concert with the esteemed Royal Pageant Master of Buckingham Palace. It is a prime example of our commitment to service, as we pay homage to a remarkable chapter in history.”

Bill Millin was the personal piper to Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, and commander of the 1st Special Service Brigade. Millin boldly contravened the British military’s prohibition on pipers at the front and in his Cameron tartan kilt strode along Sword Beach, serenading the air. He emerged from the day without harm and German sharpshooters later confessed their reluctance to target him, suspecting insanity.

Millin’s valour and the melodies of his pipes amid the tumult of combat have enshrined him as a timeless emblem of bravery and resistance.

The final bagpipe performance will take place at 8am on June 6 at Kendal Rugby Club. Later that day, at 5.30pm, a special event also takes place at the club to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day. It will feature a commemorative parade, alongside military vehicles, the Burneside Brass band, and a period singer. All proceeds will benefit Armed Forces charities.

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