Elizabeth Barraclough

Foreign Service officer
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Margaret Elizabeth Myers, diplomatic officer: born Bootle, Cumberland 5 February 1912; MBE 1947, OBE 1956; married 1941 John Barraclough (died 1942); died Petersfield, Hampshire 12 May 2006.

Elizabeth Barraclough worked in the British Foreign Service during the volatile and critical period of the end of the Empire. She was a career woman well ahead of her time, working overseas largely in a man's world where female company normally consisted of wives or secretaries.

She was born Margaret Elizabeth Myers in 1912 and brought up in Cumbria, where her father was manager of the District Bank in Penrith. Elizabeth was sent south to school at Wycombe Abbey in Buckinghamshire and, on leaving school, she joined the BBC.

Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Elizabeth Myers was posted to Singapore and was reporting from the island when the Japanese launched their invasion campaign. Shortly before being evacuated in February 1942, she married one of her BBC colleagues, John Barraclough. The couple left on different boats, Elizabeth on a small vessel that took her hazardously along the coast of Sumatra and then up to Calcutta from where she ultimately returned to Britain.

John departed from Singapore on the very last ship out. HMS Giang Bee survived six bomb attacks but was sunk in the Banka Straits by a Japanese destroyer. John Barraclough went down with the ship. There were just 11 survivors out of more than 300 passengers and crew. Elizabeth did not have confirmation of her husband's death for three years, the fate of the Giang Bee being unknown in Britain until 1945. She learnt of its loss (and by extension her husband's fate) while on a train journey: she was reading The Times of 15 September which carried a report by Robert Scott, one of the survivors, who had subsequently become a prisoner of the Japanese and had just been released after years in custody.

Elizabeth Barraclough was recruited into the British Dominions Office of the Foreign Service (now the Diplomatic Service) at the end of the war, and bravely agreed to return to Singapore, her role equating to that of press officer today. During her three years there, in 1947 she was appointed MBE. In 1949 she was posted briefly to Canton and then to Burma, which had been granted independence the year before. The country was the only member of the British Empire not to become part of the Commonwealth and as information officer Elizabeth Barraclough played an important role in securing good relations between Britain and Burma, her accomplishments earning her advancement to OBE in 1956.

Unlike the dark and isolated country of today, much of Burma just post- independence was cheerful and enormously charming - although the new nation even then was plagued by problems over ethnic divisions. Based in the then vibrant capital, Rangoon, Barraclough spent eight of her best years in Burma, counting among her close friend U Myint Thein, who was appointed Chief Justice in 1957, and U Thant, subsequently to become Secretary General of the UN. She retained a strong attachment to the country for the rest of her life, doing whatever she could to help her many Burmese friends in later, sadder times.

After a short stint back at the Commonwealth Office in London, she was posted to Canada, living in Ottawa from 1958 until 1962. Her final overseas assignment was in Delhi where she served in the High Commission, 1962-65. She retired in 1971 - very actively so and for many years continued to travel around the world visiting friends in India, Australia, Burma and more.

Elegant, and always immaculately dressed, Elizabeth could be feisty and at times formidable. Devoted to her family and her many godchildren, she was an intriguing person who retained a razor-sharp mind throughout her very full life. Once her friendship was won, her loyalties were absolute.

Harriet O'Brien

Comments