I MICHAEL JOSEPH MARTIN am the 9th and youngest child of my parents JOSEPH ABRAHAM MARTIN & ELEANOR GURTRUDE MARTIN (NEE OWEN).
I was born in Rangoon, Burma.
Education commenced at the age of four years at the Methodist High School in Rangoon, Burma which had the education system for imparting education for boys and girls up to Class (IV) and thereafter only for girls till Class (X).
On completion of studies in Class (IV) admission for further studies was made in the Baptist High School for boys. Studies continued upto December 1941 when Burma got in the 2nd World War.
As it was inevitable that Burma would be attacked by the Japanese, steps were taken by all people for protection in the event of Japanese attack.
On our property at 6-8 Newlyn Road, Rangoon, Burma a trench of a reasonable size was built by the side of the tennis court by my father. After completion several thought came to mind and that location was changed and a new trench was prepared under the big Litchi tree which was at a distance from the tennis court and which turned out to be a very wise decision.
The trench was made in the L shape with entrance cum exit at both ends. The roof was made of wood planks covered by soil.
Our two storied home glass window panes were plastered with strips of paper for protection of splinters when broken.
In the trench my parents kept one set of each person’s clothes, a reasonable amount of snacks, drinking water and a medical kit box.
On the 23rd of December, 1941 a Japanese plane flew over Rangoon City and suburbs on reconnaissance flights. The sirens announced their presence.
At that time it was said in Rangoon there were 12 fighter planes and 1000 AVG. Pilots. Only operation could be for use in the day time and not night flying.
On the 23rd of December 1941, a Japanese plane was shot down and landed on a property which was mortgaged to my father’s Company (Martin & Sons). On the all clear siren sounding, my brother Eric Martin and his friend on cycles went to the it the site where the plane had fallen and returned home with one shoe of the dead pilot and a piece of the dash board of the plane. They were exhibiting the items to everyone. Our father scolded Eric for bringing the items and had them discarded in the drain on the road of our house.
On the 25th December, 1941 (Christmas Day) made an attack on the City of Rangoon.
Behind our property was the railway lines and after the railway was the area which was being used for assembling trucks for carrying arms and ammunitions to China for the use of fighting Japan. The Japanese planes would fly low and strafing the area. One Japanese bomber dropped a bomb which landed on our tennis court. The bomb on exploding made huge crater and large pieces of concrete of the tennis court went over buildings carried by the power and force and landed on neighbouring properties.
After the raid Government and Military officials came to visit spot where the bomb fell and were shocked to see the huge crater and shrapnel which had landed even over buildings. The bomb was stated as the 3rd largest explosive bomb dropped in Burma at that time. Seeing the size and depth of the crater instructions were issued that the house be vacated for a week for safety reasons although large shrapnel were all over.
An Armenian name EFRAIM ANDREWS was a canvasser for business and had a furnished house and property in the village town of Shwebo. This town became very important later during the war. My mother and seven of us children (out of 9 children) went to Shwebo and lived for a week in Erphan /Erfan Andrew’s place. My father and two other brothers (Theodore Martin and Owen Martin) stayed in Rangoon. After a week we came back home. The stay in Shwebo caused my sisters Dorothy Martin, Cynthia Martin and brother Eric Martin to get Typhoid / Enteric and were hospitalized in Rangoon General Hospital.
Japanese plane attacks continually taking place day and night daily. Plans and arrangements were being made for evacuation to India. Deck accommodations were only available on S.S. CHILKA to Calcutta. Only 5 tickets were available, so Owen, Basil, Noreen, Joyce and Michael (myself) were to leave on that boat. On the date for departure we were to report at a specific time at the race course with only minimum luggage. The 5 of us were present and were made to board trucks to be transported to the jetty where the boats were anchored. In convoy the trucks made their way to the jetty. While some trucks before us were being unloaded the siren sounded with the approach of the Japanese planes. At the blast of the siren all trucks quickly left the jetty and made their way out of the City for safety. Once the all clear signal was given the trucks approached the jetty again. This time our truck was after two trucks to disembark. Again for a second time the sirens went off and as before the trucks quickly drove again out of the City for safety. On our third attempt to the jetty we were able to get off the truck and board the ship. Once we boarded the ship there was an announcement that the Japanese plans were approaching. Fearing an attack the ship opened the mooring and set sail leaving behind the cooks who were not on board yet as they were at the market picking up food items. The cooks were taken on board later at the entrance of the wide sea.
While the ship was sailing on high sea the crew were painting the ship for camouflage. Passengers were instructed to refrain from going to the upper deck and at night to remain on the lower deck with very light lightings. We were told that the Japanese submarines were watching us and monitoring whether the ship was carrying military personals or only civilians. We sailed on shallow waters on occasions of high risk. As a result the journey took 5 days instead of 2/3 days. The ship was under surveillance until we reached the mouth of river Hooghly. Due to the delay in sailing all of the people were starving with shortage of food.
When the ship entered the mouth of River Hooghly in the Bay of Bengal, launches crowded around the ship with persons handing out to passengers free, bread, cookies and fruits. The ship docked at Champal Ghat and we all disembarked.
The wife of the canvasser at my father’s firm who was accompanying us knew Calcutta. We booked a taxi (sikh driver) and went to eat a meal of paratha and kabab in a renowned eating place in Calcutta behind New Market. After enjoying the sumptuous meal we told the taxi driver to take us to Stephen House in Dalhousie Square where our uncle ARATOON MARTIN (dad’s brother) lived. Our uncle ARATOON MARTIN, his wife ANNA MARTIN (NEE STEPHENS) and their two children IRENE MARTIN & CYRIL MARTIN were happy to receive us and told us to have a shower immediately and be ready for a big dinner. We told him that we had already eaten paratha and kabab at new market and he rebuked is for doing so as we were coming to our uncle’s house!
Our uncle’s wife ANNA MARTIN (NEE STEPHENS) was one of the daughters of the owner of Grand Hotel on Chowringhee Road, Stephen House in Dalhousie Square, Stephen Court on Park Street and major amount of properties in Dalhousie Square and Clive Street. Also they owned Everest Hotel in Darjeeling.
Uncle Arratoon Martin was a genius in detection and sinking of deep tube wells and had sunk many deep tube wells in the City.
My parents and three of my brothers and sisters (Cynthia, Dorothy and Eric) landed at Madras. My sister Cynthia brought out a lot of my mother’s jewellery by stuffing them in socks and hiding among belongings. When my parents came from Madras to Calcutta they made arrangements for me to be admitted to Armenian College for studies. The school at that time was operating at No.10 Hungerford Street, Calcutta as the original premises on Free School Street was requisitioned for the military. Subsequently on the end of World War II the original premise was released and the school was transferred back to its original premises.
While I was at the Armenian College I was trained to play the violin and cello musical instruments and was in the school band. I was a good sportsman and Aris David and myself were joint holders of the best man cup in athletics.
My first employment was at my father’s firm Martin & Sons in Calcutta. Being young and ambitious I applied for a job at a jute company (Messer. Sinclair Murray & Co. Ltd), where my brother-in-law Hyke Thaddeus was a Manager. Their head office was in Allahabad Bank building at Clive Street, Calcutta which was close to our family business office. When I submitted my application a staff member remarked that they were not taking any interviews at the moment. I wasn’t too disappointed because I was still working with my father. After some time lapsed a letter was sent to our home from (Messer Sinclair Murray & Co. Ltd offering me a job. My dad handed me the letter and was angry that I applied for a job without his consultation. It was a painstaking and difficult task to make him understand that I wished to go out on my own and start my life. Finally on agreement my first place of employment was at the jute agency of Chittagong Co. Ltd., in Chandpur. The manager (known as Agent in those days) was Malcolm Aidinyantz and the resident director was John Gregory (both Armenians).
My job position was as an Assistant. There were two other Assistants, Apcar Avetoon, Senior Assistant and Tony Carapiet, Junior Assistant. Both were bachelors. Apcar Avetoon being senior was provided with single accommodation on the ground floor portion of the 2 storied building. Tony Carapiet and myself shared half of the upper floor of the building. The other half of the upper floor was allocated to the Resident Engineer name Karl Baxter, his wife Lilian Lazarus (an Armenian) with their infant son.
After about 9 months of service I was transferred to Niklidampara another working station of the company. The Agent at this place was Apcar Gregory (an Armenian). While working at this Agency for about 3 – 4 months I was posted as a Sub Agent at a place called Tarail for Jute purchase. Thereafter I was promoted to a full fledge Agent at Hajiganj followed by Nakalia, Sarisabari, Sirajganj and Chandpur.
On the company Chittagong Co. Ltd. winding up its operation in Jute business my services was taken over by the managing Agency to organize and operate their water transport operation (a new venture). I worked there for 2 years and then left my services to start my own business.
My first business was in water transport. I operated under the name “Khulna Shipping Co.” where I had launches and barges for carrying Jute for shipment outside the country. During that time I also had a Restaurant with a friend name Mosharraf Hossain called “Café Stadium”. We catered to Government offices, shipping companies and public functions. The Governor General at that time “Gholam Mohammad” of East Pakistan had a meal at our restaurant. Since the financing of the restaurant was done by me and the profits was being taken by my partner to meet his needs I dissolved the partnership. When I had the restaurant the lady who became my wife later (Veronica Martin Nee Gonsalves) used to come with a group of friends to have meals at the restaurant.
I changed my line of business to Jute again on the request of a close friend but after sometime was compelled to close the business as he was not being fair in his deals causing me to lose.
I decided to change again and started a business of Import, Suppliers, Manufacturers and Contractors dealing with Power Development Boards, Industries and as Contractors. I operated in the name of “Martin Trading Company”. Later I established “Preston Electric Company”. After marriage I operated under “Guardian Trading Company” name given by my wife.
When I met my wife Veronica Martin Nee Gonsalves she was a school teacher. She was one of the first teachers appointed by the Chalna Port School, Khulna, Bangladesh. Veronica was of Portuguese decent. We got married on February 8, 1963. We had a very big reception at the Khulna Club and its premises. We had two wedding cakes each weighing 25LBs. One wedding cake was made by Flurry’s of Calcutta and the second one was from Olympia Bakery at Dhaka. We had a grand wedding!
My wife continued her job at Khulna Port School until the partition of East Pakistan and Bangladesh. Her services were not required because all English Medium schools changed to Bengali Medium education. Veronica then secured employment at UNICEF in Khulna for some years. Then UNICEF wanted to transfer her services at Dhaka, which was not suitable as we were residing in Khulna so she resigned her job. Her next service was at the YWCA in Khulna where she was teaching spoken English. She used to also give private tuitions to children at home. Later in 1985 she was in charge of the Davidian Girls School hostel in Calcutta, India where she dedicated herself in taking care of the children until the year 2000. Eventually, she retired and returned to Dhaka to enjoy her old age. Her life ended unexpectedly in 2005. Her presence is greatly missed even until today. She was the rock in our family.
We have 3 beautiful daughters name Eleanor Mary Martin, Christine Elizabeth Martin and Cheryl Ann Martin. All 3 girls were educated at the Armenian College in Calcutta and thereafter completed their Bachelor of Arts. Our youngest daughter Cheryl studies further and has a double Master’s Degree. Masters in Education (Mental Hygiene & Special Education) & Masters in Psychological counselling).
On the death of Joseph Stephen who was the Chairman of the Armenian Church in Dhaka the position was taken by Stephen Nahapiet.
Stephen Nahapiet was living with his cousin Archie Nahapiet (Archibald Nahapiet) and both were bachelors. When Archi Nahapiet passed away Steve was broken hearted and lost interest in everything due to old age and ill health. His visit to the Church and premised become lesser and lesser. To solve the problem of him visiting the Church and premises he appointed a person named SIDDIK who was a rope maker in the Jute premises whom he thought honest and capable to be a caretaker of the Church and properties.
The faith placed on Siddik as a caretaker of the Church and its properties was a big mistake! He took full advantage of his position and commenced doing detrimental works which created a situation whereby a group of persons started inventing to take over custody of the Church and its properties. The situation became very serious and in 1986 a group of foreigners sided by influential people wrote to the Armenian Church in Calcutta with their intentions of taking over control of the Dhaka Armenian Church with its property. The then Wardens of the Armenian Church of Calcutta on receiving the letter and seeing the gravity of the Church in Dhaka immediately passed a decision that I go to Dhaka and take charge of the Church affairs to rid the opportunists.
My visit to the Armenian Church in Dhaka caused a great surprise and stir. My presence was hastily conveyed to the members of the group. A local lady influential in the group with a man turned up at the Church to enquire what I was doing there. They were followed by a photographer with his equipment to take pictures. I asked the photographer and his assistant what were they intentions? They said they were hired by the owners of the property. I told them they were restricted to enter the Church and its premises and forced them out of the gates! The lady and her escort on enquiry, I found out had the same name as persons of the group conspiring to take control of the Church and its properties. After several days of discussion and threats I told them that the Church is aware of their intensions and severe action will be taken against them and the consequences they will face shortly if they do not step back. Then another gentleman (a foreigner) turned up at the Church to meet me. I was not there as I returned to my business in Khulna. He left his name and number and requested to meet me to discuss the affairs of the Church. The next day I flew to Dhaka again and contacted the gentleman. I informed him how shameful it was of foreigners coming to a country on work contracts and conniving to take control of a Christian Church with its properties. I threatened to inform his Embassy and any other persons (foreigners) in his group involved with this scam to have their expiate visas cancelled and make them exit the country! Finally they step back and I received an apology letter from them saying that the group was dissolved. The letter I handed over to the then Wardens of the Armenian Church in Calcutta.
On taking over charges affairs of the Church and its properties there were multiple problems. The area people were against me taking over authority. The then caretaker Siddik and the staff were rebelling. They were all hand in glove doing stuff at the Church property. The Church was in a sorrowful state needing urgent immediate attention (See some of the pictures Christine sent you on WhatsApp). Garbage and waste of the tea stalls neighboring the cinema hall by the side of the unblessed grave yard at the Church was the dumping ground. The vacant plot of land at No.2 Armenian Street where at one time there was a building which was demolished due to its inhabitable and unrepairable state was full of garbage the area occupants used as a dumping ground.
The front portion of the Church building facing the main road has a drain which regularly used to be blocked resulting in an overflow of dirty sewage water seeping into the Church premises thus causing some sinking at the Alter portion of the Church building. With passage of time the road repair and carpeting had increased compared to the level of the Church courtyard resulting in rain water and sewage flooding. The ground level of the Church courtyard required raising and was done. The front positon of the Church building also need raising as it was affecting the structure of the Church. The situation required immediate attention to save it from destruction. Repairs to the steeple required major attendance and was carried out.
Every evening the area boys used to come and sit at the graveyard smoking and some used to play football at the graveyards. Repeated they were asked not to do so but they did not pay heed. Some of the graves were sunk in with broken gravestones. I raised the graves with concrete. Thereafter no more football could be played! Construction of a new partition railing between and separating the unblessed graveyard from the blessed courtyard graves was done.
The Archway at the entry of the Church premises was in a bad state and required attendance. Later one night the roof collapsed and I had to repair the whole thing. Both the personage and Sexton’s house required attention and repair to the building. Heavy work was required. The gate keeper’s quarters was in a dilapidated condition and was reconstructed and extended. Boundary walls of the Church premises was broken, missing and low and needed attention for security reasons. Repairs where necessary, construction and the raising to a reasonable height were carried out.
The Church building was in a very poor condition and required attention both inside and outside. The entire building was cemented, plastered and painted. The roof covering the sides of the church prayer hall had the railings broken, missing and bollards missing of the railing. Thorough repair was carried out and new bollards casted placed where required. Windows and doors were repaired, painted and vanished. There was no curtain on the alter and I had to make one. The pews were repaired and new cushions were put on as required.
The Personage building needed repair and painting which was done. The front verandah had no security. To have security which is necessity at present times the verandah area was enclosed by walling, windows and a collapsible gate at the entrance. A small verandah at the rear end was enclosed to cater as a kitchen (cooking of meals was originally done at one of the servants quarters). Two new toilets were constructed attached on the eastside of the building. Electrical wiring was done throughout the building. Concrete roofing was done as it was leaking.
The Deacon’s building was repaired inside and outside, painted and electric wiring done.
The Staff quarters required repairs and painting which was done and an additional room was extended to the building.
Staff & Visitor toilet – What existed was something disgraceful! The building was in taters with a broken roof and a hole in the floor in place of a commode. A new toilet was built with two rooms, commode and water supply.
I took steps to withdraw the authority granted to Siddik by Stephen Nahapiet and staff I felt necessary to be removed (with a lot of resistance). Local workers (labours) were prevented from working for me at the Church by the area people, old staff and Siddik causing obstacles. I had to bring workers (labours) from another city (Khulna) for undertaking the repairs, plastering and painting etc at the Church. Family members and a friend did the painting at the Alter portion of the Church. We had Christmas Service on January 6, 1987 at the Church served by a priest of the Church of England with a choir of foreigners and parishioners. After service all were invited at home for tea and snacks.
Various steps and threats were being executed to make my family and me leave the Church by the locals instigated by people having interest in the Church and its properties. They used to scare us hanging voodoo stuff from the trees and burying things in front of the house etc. God always protected us from evil.
Work continued as I was arranging funds to meet the expenses. The garbage was slowly cleared from the unblessed graveyard area. In an area side of the personage house the staff were growing illegal and banned plants. The removal was done with great caution to avoid any problems for the Church. It was decomposed and then later cleared from the area to avoid problems.
The shops which existed at No 3 Armenian Street by the side of the road required repairs. In order to augment income for the Church, repairs were carried out and extension was done in stages.
It is worth mentioning that the situation the Church was suffering financially for its existence was well known but with a sad heart I mention that although everyone was aware they showed no knowledge and innocence. BUT God by his mercy, love and assistance bestowed his blessing, power, guidance and wisdom to meet all necessary requirements to meet the needs and maintenance of his house for time immoral. The late Arch Bishop Agha Baliozian made several visits to Dhaka on his way to Calcutta.
I took over the care and responsibility of the Armenian Church in Dhaka because I considered it my duty to take care of the church and I feel honoured by doing so. The blessings, guidance and protection were essential and received. My service to the church was acknowledged by Karekin II Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians and I was bestowed the St. Nerses Shnorkols Medel tribute.