Peter Millam (1936-2010) was Senior Chaplain at Christ Church Cathedral in the Falkland Islands. He hit world headlines through his involvement with the hijacked Aerolinas Argentina airline, after it landed on the racecourse in Port Stanley.
Millam’s father, William Robert Millam, served in the Falklands as a Petty Officer Telegraphist. There he met Beatrice Orissa Bender, the daughter of pioneer settlers in the colony. The couple married in England in 1923 and Peter was born in Portsmouth. As a child, he met frequent guests from the islands and grew up steeped in Falklands lore. He attended Bromley County Grammar School and then Cheltenham Grammar School. After leaving school, he attended St David’s College Lampeter and then Ridley College, Cambridge. He spent three years teaching English and Scripture at Tinkers Farm School, Northfield, before being ordained as a priest. He served at Gloucester Cathedral and then at Christ Church, Cheltenham.
Millam married Jillian Helen Ridgway in 1960; they went on to have four children, Rosalind Caroline, Kevin John, Sarah Elizabeth and Andrew Peter.
In 1966, Millam became senior (and only) chaplain at Christ Church Cathedral in Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. The family were given a warm welcome; Millam later commented that he was seen as a local boy made good. As well as being officiating minister, his duties included opening the legislative council with prayers and serving the seamen’s mission. Indeed, the acting judge would occasionally refer court cases to him, if it was thought the ‘padre’ could satisfactorily resolve domestic disputes.
Millam visited all over the islands, travelling by Land Rover, Beaver seaplane, boat, horseback and on foot to carry out weddings, baptisms and prayer meetings. He reached South Georgia in 1967, where he said prayers at Sir Ernest Shackleton’s graveside and led a service in Grytviken church. In March 1968, he exported sixty penguins to England for Len Hill of Birdland, Gloucestershire; only one bird died en route.
Only a few months after Millam’s arrival on the Falklands, he was the first of the two priests concerned with the hi-jacked Aerolinas Argentina airliner. A group of right-wing Argentine nationalists, members of the ‘Condor group’, captured a DC-4 plane and compelled the pilot to fly to Port Stanley. The plane then made a forced landing on the racecourse. Together with the Chief of Police and five of the Royal Marine garrison, Millam was taken hostage after he went to offer help. The hijackers allowed him to leave to let the acting governor know they had come to ‘free the islands from British oppression.’ Accompanied by a Spanish speaking Catholic priest, Father Rodolfo Roel, Millam then went back to the plane to negotiate the release of the women and children. In the confusion, he was able to smuggle Terry Peck, the chief of police, on to a Land Rover by hiding him under his clerical roles! After the hijackers had spent a night in freezing cold and without food and water, the two priests were able to secure their surrender and the release of the remaining hostages. Millam later commented, ‘This earned me a free drink in any Royal Marine Mess!’
The second half of the 1960s were politically turbulent for the Falklands. The British Foreign Office minister Lord Chalfont visited in October 1968, hoping to persuade the islanders to accept some sort of Argentinian involvement in their affairs. The Millams were asked to host a tea for him where he met some members of the cathedral congregation. Millam later wrote, ‘Lord Chalfont confidently expected that an English-born, -bred and -trained Anglican contract priest would hold “sensible” views regarding relations with Argentina. I am proud to say that he left the deanery almost a broken man.’ Later that evening, Chalfont faced a hostile public meeting in Port Stanley Town Hall. From that time onwards, Millam was a fervent supporter of the Keep the Falklands British Campaign.
Millam returned to England in June 1970. He remained unfailingly loyal to the Falklands for the rest of his life and fought tirelessly for the islands in the media and in committee. He was a founder member and welfare officer of the Falkland Islands Committee. After the Argentine invasion of 1982, he was the first person to broadcast to the islanders on the BBC World Service; he read the second lesson at the Falkland Islands Evensong in St Paul’s Cathedral the following Palm Sunday. He was also involved in obtaining full British citizenship for the Falklanders, together with right of abode. Towards the end of his life, when he was seriously ill, he left his hospital bed to lead the service at the Cenotaph which commemorated the anniversary of the decisive naval victory at the Battle of the Falklands in 1914.
Millam worked as vicar of Pulloxhill with Flitton from 1970 to 1979, St Paul’s Luton from 1979-1989 and then Chipping Camden with Ebrington from 1989 to 1994. In 1992 he was chaplain to the high sheriff of Gloucestershire. Ill health meant that he took early retirement in 1994. One of his letters to the Daily Telegraph described the sale of his library of theology books, built up over forty years, realizing only £170. In contrast, a boxed Pirelli calendar from the early 1980s, given him by his garage as a ‘naughty joke’, fetched £200!
Millam died at St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, on June 8 2010, aged seventy-four.
Dictionary of Falklands Biography including South Georgia. (2018). Millam, Peter John 1936-2010. Retrieved September 15 2020 from https://www.falklandsbiographies.org/biographies/327
The Reverend Peter Millam. (2010, July 9). Daily Telegraph. Retrieved from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/resources/doc/nb/news/130E036E723F3478?p=UKNB
Daily Telegraph Correspondent. (1966, September 30). Islanders Keep Watch as Invaders Shiver. Daily Telegraph, 30. Retrieved from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/IO0704764560/TGRH?u=nlw_ttda&sid=TGRH&xid=b2217f6e
Millam, P. (2001, November 30). Tea but no sympathy. Daily Telegraph. Retrieved from https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/resources/doc/nb/news/0F2B73578D7370B5?p=UKNB
Millam, P. (1994, May 20). Snapped up. Daily Telegraph. Retrieved from https://go.gale.com/ps/retrieve.do?tabID=Newspapers&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&searchResultsType=SingleTab&hitCount=2&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm¤tPosition=2&docId=GALE%7CIO0701920089&docType=Letter+to+the+editor&sort=Pub+Date+Forward+Chron&contentSegment=ZTHA-MOD1&prodId=TGRH&pageNum=1&contentSet=GALE%7CIO0701920089&searchId=R4&userGroupName=nlw_ttda&inPS=true
Millam, P. (2002). A Falklands link. The Link 55, 5-7