Highlighting some of the lesser known, but just as important past Armenian characters in India.
Those Armenians who have some sort of connection, or maybe simply buried in Calcutta and other locations in India, I re-create their lives and put them into short stories, at least as much as I am able to.
The Armenians of India are unique and their stories need to be told. I hope this blog goes a little way to telling those stories.
Armenian graves in India www.chater-genealogy.com.
Alain John: He Didn’t Make it to Old Age, But He Did Make a Statue of Christ
make it to old age, but he did make a statue that has become a symbol of peace
and reconciliation, remarkably, there are in fact two copies. One is situated
at his old school in Devon, and the other is situated in the ruins of a bombed
Cathedral in England. Here is Alain’s story.
As part of
some on-going Armenian family history research, I recently came across the name
of Alain Jordan Clement John. His father Jordan Constantine John had been born
in 1886 in Calcutta to Armenian parents Joseph Mackertich John and Annie
Jordan.The surname John being
anglicised from the Armenian name of Hovhannes to Johannes and finally to
John.Joseph had migrated to India from
Julfa in Persia. He married Annie Jordan daughter of Arratoon Jordan in
November 1874 at the Railway Church in Lahore. Joseph and Annie had at least
five children (although I think there may well have been six). Mary Ripsimah in
1875, Lilly Constance in 1879, Amelia Regina in 1881, Hosannah Margaret in 1884
and Jordan Constantine in 1886.
Simple family tree of Alain Jordan John
Jordan John had
been a dedicated medical man of the military, choosing to join up and serve
with the Indian Medical Service in 1912.His commitment and bravery carried him up through the ranks as far as
Lieutenant-Colonel. Jordan was awarded an O.B.E. in June 1919 for his actions
in the First World War and he had been mentioned in despatches back home.
so many from India, including the Armenian community, had been educated in
England at Dulwich. Graduating to King’s College Cambridge he was admitted in
October 1905 gaining a B.A. in 1908 and an M.B. in 1912.Medicine was the direction in which he wanted
to channel his attentions and he gained further qualifications as a doctor
(M.R.C.S. England) and L.R.C.P. (London) in 1910.Jordan’s first position was at St.
Bartholomew’s Hospital and he became the House Physician and Ophthalmic House
after the honour of the O.B.E. had been bestowed on him, Jordan had married
Alice Morel in the middle of 1919, and with India in his heart they returned to
Asia where on the 20th June the following year Alain was born in Karachi,
father, Alain was also sent back to England to be educated.He was enrolled at Blundell’s School in Devon
in 1932 aged 12, where he excelled and became a “brilliant” student. Alain’s
artistic flair had been noticed by his teachers and his particular interest in
sculpture was something he began to shine at, in fact he was regarded as one of
Britain’s upcoming sculptors, and all before his 20th birthday.Having finished his education at Blundell’s, and
just like his father, Alain passed the entrance exam to King’s College
Cambridge and at Christmas 1938 his father suggested Alain return to India to “see
the world and travel a bit” before starting university in the following
October. But Alain’s choice to stay in England would be one that would have a
lasting effect not just for his family but for anyone touched by the cruel
ravages of war.
As a tribute
to Blundell’s, the school full of wonderful memories that gave him a sound
education, he decided he wanted to cast a sculpture of Peter Blundell who
founded the school in 1604. Instead of conceding to his father and travelling,
he continued to stay at the school and spent the next school term attempting to
make a sculpture. It was meant to stand in a high niche overlooking the
quadrangle but he was not happy with it and abandoned that model and started again,
this time working on a model of St. Peter. Unhappy with that creation he then
moved on to modelling ‘Christ blessing the multitude’. Determined he wanted to
complete this developing figure he continued to work on it night and day, from
the early hours ‘til late at night. In fact his determination, (most definitely
an Armenian trait!) was so great that he
checked himself into a local hotel during the Easter holidays when the school
was closed, just so that he could continue to work on the piece. Eric Gill, a respected and successful English
sculptor at the time said of Alain’s clay model “no finer piece of work has
been done in this country this year by anyone. This thing is superb and you
cannot possibly risk casting it yourselves.” But Blundell’s did indeed cast it,
and the 7ft figure stands over the porch in a niche looking down over the
commencement of World War 2 Alain signed up with the Royal Air Force in England,
apparently telling his friends “if war comes to us I shall join the Royal air
Force. It’s a quick death.” Preferring to stay with his friends from school he
became a Navigator Sergeant eschewing an officer’s commission in favour of
flying in the team of sergeants made up of his familiar school pals.
He flew many
bombing flights across the Channel. The battle of Berlin commenced 18-19
November 1943 and although it is difficult to confirm if he was part of this
operation, it is very likely that he was.
headmaster Neville Gorton went on to become the Bishop of Coventry. It was he
who was so impressed with the young Alain’s work that he commissioned it to be
re-cast in concrete. It stands today in the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral
forming part of the memorial to those who lost their lives in the war. A young
man’s life, like so many, snatched by the consequence of conflict had no idea
that he left a legacy not least one with such poignancy.
quite extraordinary about Alain is that he appears to have dropped off service
records. The online Forces War Records do not have anything on him, he cannot
be found in the RAF records held by other online sites, he cannot be found on
the Commonwealth War Graves records, he cannot be found in any military records
generally. It is quite likely that his records are still with the RAF.
grateful to Aidan McRae Thomson for allowing me to use his image of the statue
at Coventry Cathedral.This and many
others can be found of Aidan’s Flickr page.
This is a second casting, in concrete
of a statue at Blundell’s School in Devon. It was created by an 18 year old
pupil, Alain John. The Headmaster, Neville Gorton, later became Bishop of
Coventry and on the death of Alain John, an RAF navigator, in 1943 at the age
of 23, the statue was recast for Coventry as a memorial to those who lost their
lives in the war.
represents Christ blessing the multitude.
ended his days in Jersey in the Channel Islands, dying there in 1970.
Alain a bachelor
died at the home of his spinster aunt Amelia (sister of Jordan John) in Drewstead
Road, Surrey aged just 23 years. He is buried with his Armenian grandparents, Joseph Mackertich
John and Annie nee Jordan in West Norwood Cemetery, London. He sustained
injuries on one of the bombing raids on Germany in December 1943 and succumbed
to them on the 21st December.
descendant, Alain was yet another Armenian from India who gave his life in a
The grave of Joseph Mackertich John
his wife Annie and their grandson
The Times, 29 December 1943, Obituary of Alain John
British Library India Office Records
King’s College Cambridge Alumni List
London and Edinburgh Gazette, various references to WW1