BELFAST centenarian Millicent Hamilton has lived through the Easter Rising and two World Wars.
She turned 100 on April 11 and received a letter of congratulations and well-wishes from the Queen at her nursing home in Bangor, Co. Down.
Her two sons, Thomas and James Blair Hamilton, along with her surviving nieces and nephews and grandchildren, gathered for a party to mark the milestone.
We spoke to her son Thomas Hamilton about her fascinating family and life…
1. She survived the Belfast Blitz during World War II
On April 15, 1941 a 25-year-old Millicent had her boyfriend Thomas Hamilton – who would later become her husband – visit her at her mother’s house. That day was the first of a number of blitzes on Belfast. The bombs fell thick and fast from the sky.
“She remembers the screaming sound of the bombs as they fell,” Mr Hamilton said.
“They hid in the glory hole under the staircase and waited for it to stop. Loads of houses around them collapsed but luckily they emerged unscathed.”
2. Her brother ran away to join the army
When Millicent was born, the First World War was in full force in Europe – and her eager brother, Ambrose, who was 14, was determined to fight.
Twice he attempted to register for the British Army in Belfast but his mother found out and dragged him home each time.
He eventually successfully registered when he ran away from home to Dublin.
“He was very tall for his age so when he got registered in Dublin he was sent over to England to a training camp,” Mr Hamilton said.
“But he got the Spanish flu while there and it was only when my grandmother went to England to bring his remains home that the authorities found out he was 14.”
3. Two of her other brothers also led action-packed lives
A second brother, James, survived his Navy ship being torpedoed during WWII – while another brother, Harry, lived through two similar attacks.
“James was on a hospital ship bringing back wounded soldiers to Britain when it was torpedoed but he survived,” Mr Hamilton explained.
“Harry was working on a Shell Oil ship and was hit twice during the war. Luckily, both ships were on their way to fill up with oil – if they had been full, the ships would’ve been destroyed along with everyone on board.”
4. She is the second person in her family to correspond with the monarch
On her 100th birthday, like all British citizens who reach the landmark age, Millicent received a letter of congratulations from Queen Elizabeth II. But this one is extra special – as it is the second royal letter to be sent to her family.
“When Ambrose died, he was given a full military funeral in Belfast and King George V heard about his death and how young he was so he wrote a letter of condolence to my grandmother,” Mr Hamilton said.
“I still have it at home today.”
5. The secret to a long life? Keeping the mind active
Every centenarian has a different secret to their longevity – and Millicent’s is all about the mind. While she gave up smoking 70 years ago and only drinks one glass of wine on Christmas Day, it is her mental health more than her physical health that she credits for her age.
“She still knits – she has a friend from Gibraltar and they sit and have a natter every day while knitting,” Mr Hamilton said.
“And she loves her crosswords in the paper, she’ll sit there with her dictionary and do the whole thing and then she’ll read the paper too.”