Tribute to long-standing Ramsgate RNLI supporter Elsie Miller

Elsie Miller and husband John at a naming ceremony in October 2014.

Ramsgate RNLI station has shared sad news of the death of a long standing supporter of the RNLI family.

Elsie Miller (nee Kirkaldie) was born in Ramsgate on 16th February 1936. Her father, Douglas Kirkaldie described himself in the 1939 census as ‘a lifeboatman, coastal pilot and boat proprietor’ and Elsie became totally absorbed in his work.

Through her paternal great-grandmother she was descended from the Penney family many of whose members spent years in RNLI service and she also had family connections to Howard Knight who, as Ramsgate lifeboat coxswain, was awarded the DSM for his service in the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation in which her father, by then in the Royal Navy, also took part.

When asked about her early lifeboat memories for a recent lifeboat history book Elsie recalled two incidents – one of which she had been told and the other she remembered.

In 1936, when Elsie was just six months old, it was decided that for the annual Ramsgate Water Gala the RNLI lifeboat Prudential and her crew would perform a mock rescue from a burning boat. One of the lifeboat crew was called Catt, but known as ‘Moggy’, was about the same size as her mother. He was persuaded to wear one of her mother’s dresses with a scarf over his head. He also carried a life-sized baby doll.

‘Mother and child’ were put on board a small boat which was set adrift with a simulated smoky fire on board and the lifeboat launched to rescue them. Successful rescue over, Coxswain Howard Knight brought the lifeboat alongside the landing stage and to the cheers of the crowd mother and baby Elsie appeared from under the lifeboat’s canopy. The cheers, however, suddenly changed to angry muttering and one woman in the crowd shouted out ‘You wicked woman, fancy putting a baby in danger’. Coxswain Knight, realising the matter could get out of hand, called out ‘Moggy, get out here with that doll’ at which point the crowd realised what had happened and the cheers and claps returned.

Elsie was again actively involved in lifeboat work in May 1947. By this time her father had been appointed coxswain of the RNLB Prudential and was called out to a collision between the tanker Newhall Hills of San Francisco and another vessel. Following a massive explosion aboard the tanker, in which one man lost his life, three tugs started towing the tanker to Sheerness. The Prudential remained as an escort to the tanker and tugs in case the crew needed to be taken off.

After completing the escort duty and on the way back to Ramsgate the lifeboat, with no radio aboard, called at the ‘Varne’ lightvessel and asked the crew there to inform the Ramsgate Coastguard that they expected to be back in Ramsgate Harbour at 12.30pm by which time they would have been at sea for thirty-two hours. In the absence of a radio the lifeboat crew had been unable to update their families of their progress so the Coastguard informed Mrs Kirkaldie who, in turn, sent Elsie out to inform the crew’s families.

Elsie married John Miller in 1956 and subsequently they went on to have two children but throughout her life she maintained her interest in both Ramsgate RNLI and all things nautical around Ramsgate Harbour.

For many years she was actively involved in fundraising for Ramsgate RNLI and the lifeboat station’s management team as Minutes Secretary. More latterly she was elected as the station’s Honorary President in thanks for all of her years of service. She remained President until her death and her other activities continued until well into the late 2010s but sadly came to an end primarily due to Elsie’s failing mobility and health.

An RNLI Ramsgate spokesperson said: “All of the crew, and the management team wish to send their condolences to John and his family. We have all lost a good friend and she will be missed.”

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