Susie Millar

Susie Millar remembers clearly when she first heard about the two pennies. “I was seven and my father was reading me a story about the sinking of Titanic. When he had finished, he told me it was written by my grandfather, whose life was changed forever that day.” 

This is the story she heard. 

When RMS Titanic sailed out on her maiden journey on April 2nd, 1912, thousands of people lined Belfast Lough to cheer her off. For five-year-old Ruddick Millar, watching from Boneybefore beach near Carrickfergus, it was a moment he would never forget. Earlier that day he and his older brother had said goodbye to their father, Tommy, before he boarded the great liner to sail to New York. 

At the Harland & Wolff shipyard on Queen’s Island, Tommy had worked on the engines of Titanic and her sister ship Olympic. He had a dream to start a new life for his family in America and was training as an engineer to make that possible. Tragically, his wife Jeannie had died in January but Tommy had decided to travel to New York anyway, working as a deck engineer for the White Star Line, Titanic’s owners. 

Tommy’s plan was to establish a new life for himself and his two young sons in New York before he returned to collect them.

As he left, he pressed two shiny new pennies into their hands. “They are this year’s”, he told them. “Don’t spend them until I come back. I kept them out of my last wages specially for each of you.” 

As he waved Titanic off from the beach at Boneybefore, Ruddick scanned the ships to see if his father was waving back as he had promised, but he was too far away to identify him. 

A few days later he was playing with a paper boat on the same beach, when he saw his cousin Ella approach. She bore terrible news. Titanic had sunk, he would never see his father again. Now orphaned, Ruddick and his brother continued to live with their great aunt Mary at Fool’s Haven Cottage in Boneybefore. 

As for the two pennies, they were never spent and have remained in the family ever since.  

While his brother, Tommy Junior, followed his father into Harland & Wolff, working as a cabinet maker, Susie says that Ruddick chose a very different life. “He became a successful journalist and writer. One of his plays was performed at Belfast’s Grand Opera House when he was just 18, and he wrote for all the major Northern Irish newspapers.” 

Susie never got to meet her grandfather, however, as Ruddick died in 1952 at the age of 46.  

Susie worked as a broadcaster for the BBC and UTV, specialising in news, until Titanic started to play a bigger part in her life. “In the past Belfast people didn’t talk about Titanic. But as I got older my dad got me interested, making me watch ‘A Night to Remember’ (the 1958 film about Titanic). The personal connection began to mean something to me.” 

With the 1997 film ‘Titanic’ becoming the world’s highest grossing film and the approach of the ship’s centenary, Susie decided to leave her media career and take the plunge as a Titanic guide and lecturer.  

The rise of interest in Titanic coincided with a dramatic re-development of Queen’s Island, where Harland & Wolff are based. Once like a city within a city, with up to 30,000 workers arriving at ‘the yard’ each morning, it is now a homage to Titanic and her fellow giants of the sea.  

While Harland & Wolff itself is now a pioneer in marine engineering rather than a shipbuilder, its past glory is celebrated in the world’s biggest Titanic attraction, Titanic Belfast. Nearby, the drawing offices where Titanic and other ships were designed are now part of a luxury hotel. Nomadic, the tender ship that took excited passengers from Cherbourg port to board Titanic, stands proudly in Hamilton Dock. Titanic’s Dock & Pump House, the last place Titanic rested on dry ground, is also a visitor attraction. 

When Susie completes her Titanic tour, she takes her visitors to a glass panel by the slipways from which the ship was launched. There, where her great grandfather’s name is listed amongst those who lost their lives on Titanic, she tells her story. 

Her grandfather, Ruddick, is commemorated too, with a blue plaque outside the cottage in Boneybefore where he spent his childhood years after his father’s death. 

For Susie, the story of the two pennies came full circle when she was part of a memorial cruise to New York on the centenary of Titanic’s sinking. She was deeply moved by the memorial service held at the place the great ship sank, but even that  emotional impact paled as they sailed into New York.

“As we passed the Statue of Liberty, moored where Titanic would have moored, and I set foot on Manhattan soil as Tommy hoped to do, I felt I had finally completed his journey.”