Man from Newton Stewart helps organise Antarctica Burns Supper

Meteorologist Mairi Simms (left) and site agent Rob Kerr (right) helped organise Antarctica's biggest-ever Burns Night Supper. Credit: Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

A man from Newton Stewart has helped organise the biggest-ever Burns Supper held in Antarctica.

Rob Kerr was one of the organisers and enjoyed playing some traditional Scottish reels on his accordion at the after-dinner ceilidh.

Site agent Mr Kerr, 33, said: “We might be in one of the remotest places on Earth, but nothing can stop Scots from celebrating Burns Night."

Around 140 people, including 50 Scots working at the British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera Research Station in Antarctica celebrated the life of Robert Burns at what is believed to be the world’s most southerly celebration on Saturday 21 January.

Haggis was transported aboard the UK’s state-of-the-art exploration ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, to help mark Scotland’s national bard’s birthday.

Rothera Research Station is part of a UK Government polar infrastructure investment programme, which is keeping Britain at the forefront of world-leading climate change research in Antarctica and the Arctic.

Haggis was transported aboard the UK’s state-of-the-art exploration ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough for the 140 staff at Rothera. Credit: Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Mr Kerr said: “There are about 50 Scots on site and 140 people here in total. You’d be hard pushed to find a busier Burns Supper.

“My father is accordionist at the Newton Stewart Burns Club and I am sure he will be proud of the continued family involvement in celebrating Burns.”

Mr Kerr was deployed to Antarctica in November 2022 and says the Burns Supper is the perfect morale booster for those spending long periods away from loved ones.

He said: “It’s been strange being away for Christmas and New Year. It was a bitter-sweet experience because it’s amazing to get a chance to work in a place like this.

“Events like this are so important because they help break up the long season into milestones to look forward to.

“Rothera has a diverse culture, and it is nice to share these traditions with those who have not experienced it before.

“People were really looking forward to this, although they probably changed their mind when they heard me playing the accordion!”

Rob Kerr was one of the organisers and enjoyed playing some traditional Scottish reels on his accordion at the after-dinner ceilidh. Credit: Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Last Wednesday, 17 January, marked the 250th anniversary of British polar exploration, after Captain James Cook on HMS Resolution became the first ship to cross the Antarctic Circle in 1773.

Today, in stark contrast to Captain Cook’s all-male crew, the UK’s presence in the polar regions is dominated by female leadership.

Jane Rumble, is head of the Polar Regions Department at the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO); Dame Jane Francis is director of the British Antarctic Survey; Captain Maryla Ingham commands the Royal Navy’s only ice patrol ship, the HMS Protector, and Camilla Nichol is chief executive of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Scottish meteorologist Mairi Simms is on her 11th deployment to the Rothera Research Station as science coordinator and was a chief organiser of the Burns Supper celebration.

Mairi, 39, from Pitlochry in Perthshire, said: “The haggis was shipped over a while ago on RRS Sir David Attenborough. Once we’d defrosted it, we had plenty for 140 guests.

“We had everything you’d expect from a Burns Supper, including the address to the haggis, the immortal memory, address to the lassies and reply to the laddies and lots of people reciting poems and singing.

“These social events are so important when people are away from all their friends and family for such a long time.”

She added: “My parents get a little worried sometimes but they’re better now that I have a few deployments under my belt. The communications have improved so much over the years. We are able to call home and use WhatsApp so keeping in touch is much easier.

“When I first came down here in 2012, it was going to be a one-off adventure of a lifetime before I settled back into ‘normal’ life but I absolutely fell in love with the place.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which employs over 16,000 staff in 179 countries and territories, is using Burns Night to promote Scotland internationally across the world.

Diplomats at posts including Australia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Ivory Coast, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland, South Sudan, Uzbekistan and Venezuela are all flying the flag for Scotland by hosting Burns Suppers.

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