British Antarctic Survey (BAS) administrator in Stanley, and radio broadcaster, was born in Punta Arenas, Chile on 13 December 1943 to Joseph (Joe) BOOTH (1916-2003) and Maruja Booth née Bonacich (1914-1989). The Booths had four daughters: Myriam, Nancy (b. January 1948 in Punta Arenas) and twins Sandra and Mary (b. October 1958 in Stanley). Mary, known as Little Mary, sadly died after four hours from birth, and is buried in Stanley cemetery.
In August 1955 Joe Booth moved to Stanley to work for the Falkland Islands Company as an electrician. In October 1955 the family joined him in Stanley.
On leaving school, Myriam was employed by the Falkland Islands Company as a clerk/typist in the Works Department office. After returning from a family holiday in England in 1960, on 2 January 1961 she was employed by the Falkland Islands Dependency Survey (FIDS) as a clerk and typist in the FIDS meteorological office, which was located on Eliza Cove Road in Stanley. She recalls climbing the wind tower at the met. office to view the Argentine DC4 aircraft as it flew over Stanley and eventually landed on the racecourse in September 1966. (see: The CONDOR incident)
The FIDS met. office was later closed, and its responsibilities were transferred to the newly created Falkland Islands Government (FIG) met. department.
Myriam held this post until she transferred to the FIDS main office, circa 1969, later known as the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), in Stanley, which was at the time situated next to Government House. On her transfer, Myriam was appointed Secretary/Assistant to Edward (Ted) Clapp, the Officer in charge of BAS Stanley, where she also undertook the responsibility for purchasing and despatching any requirements of the FIDS bases in the south.
Ted Clapp left the Falklands in 1975, and the BAS Advance Headquarters, in Stanley, was closed down as a result of the creation of a new centralised headquarters at Madingley, near Cambridge. Myriam was then appointed the local BAS administrator and representative – this post was made permanent on 01 July 1992.
Myriam provided the Island’s first air traffic control from Stanley Harbour for the ‘Albatross’ flying boats. (see: image 1019) BAS became early users of this basic form of transport until the arrival of the ‘tin-strip’ airport at Hooker’s Point was built. (Source: BAS Club Newsletter; 1998)
Myriam’s support of countless numbers of FIDS/BAS personnel over many years is legendary. She regularly provided midwinter messages and greetings to personnel serving on the BAS Antarctic bases in the south via the short-wave radio. As an amateur radio enthusiast, (call sign VP8DQ) she also held regular evening ‘scheds’ with similar enthusiasts serving in the BAS bases in Antarctica.
Staff passing through Mount Pleasant airport always found Myriam standing by with the BAS Land Rover. She was always on the jetty whenever any of the BAS ships visited, and she handled all the mail for the bases. and at Stanley Airport to welcome the Dash-7 plane on its arrival en route to Antarctica. She would also assist sorting the incoming mail at the Post Office in Stanley to make sure any mail for the bases was able to connect with the ships sailing on due date.
A fluent Spanish speaker, Myriam was a valuable asset when she was required to provide support for BAS personnel, ships and aircraft passing through the South American mainland. On countless occasions she was called upon to provide verbal or written translations in support of the BAS activity in South America.
Ted Clapp paid tribute to the support Myriam gave to BAS:
I personally know the extent of loyalty and effort she gave to the organisation. During very extended office hours she was ‘here, there and everywhere’ covering all sorts of problems – from transporting arrivals, sorting accommodation, arranging packed meals for Dash [aircraft] crews and passengers, to arranging facilities for visiting scientists and dignitaries.(Source: BAS Club newsletter 2004)
Myriam’s association with FIDS/BAS bases over many years was commemorated in 1973 at Stonington base, when a husky dog puppy was named after her.
In January 1984, Myriam and three other female BAS employees from HQ Cambridge Office - G.E. (Anne) Todd (BAS Information officer), Rowena Harris (Director of BAS assistant) & Carys Williams (BAS Executive Officer, Establishments Section) - were given the opportunity to visit BAS Bases in Antarctica. They sailed on the RRS John Biscoe. A sea journey that Myriam does not recall with pleasure as she is not a good sailor. They were the first BAS female members of the administrative staff to make a fact-finding tour of the BAS bases.
With the introduction of the Dash-7 aircraft direct flights to Antarctica, Myriam was given the honour of being the first woman to be flown on the Dash-7 from Stanley to Rothera on 11 February 1994.
In 1989 she was awarded the prestigious Fuchs Medal. This medal is awarded by the British Antarctic Survey for ‘Outstanding devotion to BAS interests, beyond the call of normal duty’. Her medal is inscribed with the words, ‘Myriam Booth, our invaluable Kelper Helper. ‘
In 1990 Myriam was awarded the MBE. She chose not to travel to England to receive the award at Buckingham Palace, instead choosing to receive it from HRH The Duke ofEdinburgh, at Government House, during his visit to the Falklands later in the year.
One of the most challenging times during her long service for BAS occurred during the Argentine invasion in 1982. Myriam recounted her experiences in a BAS Club newsletter in 1982. Her concern for the work of BAS remained unshakeable:
On the day of RRS Bransfield’s departure I felt very sad and couldn’t shake it off, but I couldn’t understand why. When the invasion happened, I realised that had we had known of the impending crisis I would have packed personal and BAS belongings onto the ship for safe keeping until things had sorted themselves out …At first the Argentines behaved extremely well, very polite, and no damage to property was noticeable. As the Task Force approached … so began the saga of breaking into garages, sheds and empty houses … I continued to go to the BAS office daily and see what was going on. On my last visit I sorted out the accounts for posting and was preparing a telex … when I was interrupted by an Army officer, who hand on gun, demanded that I leave the building at once … On walking past the office a few days later I could see that the BAS office was occupied … the office had obviously been broken into as I had left it locked up and I was assured that the office would not be used. I was told that office was needed but I was assured that nothing would be touched. Unfortunately, this was not so – on entering the building after the liberation, there was absolutely nothing left in all our rooms … Slowly but surely, I am getting the office back to rights, and once communication with the bases is reinstated, I hope the BAS office can go back to functioning as normal.
In 2002 Myriam received a long service award on reaching 40 years’ service, and she retired 31 March 2004 after 43 years’ service to FIDS/BAS – the longest serving employee of the National Environmental Research Council (NERC).
At her retirement ceremony, the BAS Directors who were to pay tribute to her did not arrive in Stanley in time because the flight from Britain was delayed. Standing in for them, the Governor, Howard Pearce, presented her with the gift of a glass bowl. (Source: Falkland Islands Association newsletter) Many tributes were paid by BAS staff when she retired – several of her bosses referred to her as ‘Myriam the Miracle’.
In her personal life: as a young child, Myriam learnt to play the piano, (playing duets with her sister Nancy) and in later years self-taught herself to play the accordion.
In 1961 she joined the Falkland Islands Broadcasting Service (FIBS) now Falklands Radio, as continuity announcer and programme presenter, in the early days, these programmes were listened to in Chile, Antarctica, South Georgia, ships at sea that were operating in the South Atlantic and on Mid-Winter’s Day she dedicated a special programme to the bases, music and inclusion of messages from home. She has since become the islands’ most popular freelance presenter. Her passion is music, and whilst her original interest was in the rock’n’roll era of the 1950’s & 60’s, she developed a ‘taste’ for country music, and her knowledge of this genre is second to none. Her favourite artist is Elvis Presley, with Connie Francis coming a close second. Her sister often says, she knows more about Elvis than he probably knew himself. Over the years, she has amassed an impressive vinyl records and CD collection. She was often asked to be DJ at the Town Hall dances, and at private wedding and birthday celebrations.
Not only has she been interested in music, but after purchasing a 4-track reel to reel tape recorder, she would often tape news items of interest. One notable recording occurred when she recorded the announcements made on Falklands Radio by W.H YOUNG giving updates on the events taking place after the arrival and landing of the Argentine DC4 aircraft on the Racecourse and later the commentary by AG BARTON on the day it took off safely back to Argentina. But the most memorable recording occurred when she had the presence of mind to start recording all the announcements made on Falklands Radio on the evening of 1st April and into the morning of 2nd April 1982 as the Argentine Invasion was occurring. She has since transferred these tapes to CD and has given archival copies to the Jane Cameron National Archives, Stanley Museum and Falklands Radio.
The Manager of the Falklands Broadcasting Service has commented that:
Myriam Booth is the station’s longest serving member of staff. She started as Continuity Announcer at Falklands Radio in 1961 and has since become one of our most popular Freelance Presenters … She is an avid Manchester United FC fan, but her true passion was music, especially rock & roll and country! Myriam’s favourite artist was Elvis Presley, and her music taste ranged from 1940s to 1970s pop and country music up until the 1990s. (Source: Falklands Radio)
In her retirement, Myriam Booth continues to live in Stanley, and she continues to host her music programmes on Falkland Radio; she listens to the football broadcasts following the highs and lows of her favourite team Manchester United,Myriam enjoys her favourite tipple of rum and coke and her favourite confectionary – hazelnut whirls.
Information for this biography from British Antarctic Survey archives
Information for this biography from British Antarctic Survey Club newsletters.
See: Joe BOOTH
April 2023 Biography first added to Dictionary