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MEHS History As Told by Frank E. Manton and Karis B. Manton

  by Thomas B. Manton


 In the beginning…

Frank Ernest Manton was born on Sept. 4, 1901 in East Liverpool, Ohio to Thomas C. Manton, Sr. and Fanny Manton. He was a graduate of East Liverpool High School and then worked in the steel mills, which were a part of the City along the Ohio River. After several years of working, Frank enrolled, along with his older brother Albert, in Ohio Wesleyan University in the famous Class of 1927. He and Albert were very active in sports and music, and both of them were members of the famous Ohio Wesleyan Men’s Glee Club that toured Europe in the summer of 1927 after they graduated from college in June of that year.

Karis Elizabeth Brewster was born on April 12, 1903 in Hinghwa, Fukien Province (now known as Putian, Fujian Province) China during the waning years of the Empire of China. Her mother was Elizabeth Fisher Brewster who arrived in China as a missionary teacher in 1884 and married her husband in 1890. Karis was first educated in Hinghwa and then went at a very early age to the newly opened school in Shanghai called the Shanghai American School. In 1916 her father, the Rev. Dr. William N. Brewster, died while enroute to the General Conference of the Methodist Church where he was to be named Bishop of the Methodist Church. Thirteen year old Karis was called in by one of the missionaries resident in Shanghai to be told that her father had died in Chicago. Karis was very close to her father and for several years after that traumatic experience, she talked to her father. Karis graduated from Shanghai American School in 1922 and immediately went on to Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU). Her father, Dr. William N. Brewster, was a graduate of the OWU’s Class of 1883 and her two grandfathers also attended OWU in the 1840s just after its founding. Karis’ brothers and sister also graduated from OWU. She was right at home. Karis was a very active student leader in college and was Vice President of the Senior Class while Dr. Frank Stanton was the class President. Dr. Stanton went on to be President and Vice Chairman of CBS.

In the end of April 1926 one of Frank’s classmates came home from a date and said to Frank, “I went out with a lovely girl tonight who is not right for me but would be perfect for you – Frank.” Frank had a date with Karis and within five weeks of their first date they were engaged to be married.

Karis then left to teach in China for nearly 4 years. When she arrived in 1926 she taught at the Girls School in Hinghwa and then later she taught at Hua Nan College (for girls) in Fuzhou – the capital of Fujian Province – just 65 miles north of Hinghwa. In the late 1920s, however, those 65 miles took them two days traveling time. Today it takes two hours.

Frank, after completing his senior year at OWU and the above-mentioned historic tour of Europe with his brother Albert, become the Director of the YMCA in North Canton, Ohio for the next three years.

After being apart nearly four years and writing back and forth – not on the Internet – but where a letter would take 30 days from the U.S. to China one way – Karis returned to Vancouver, B.C. Canada by ship from China on the Canadian Pacific steamer. She took a train across the country to Ohio and with Frank drove to New York City where they were married two weeks after setting foot on North American soil in the chapel at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Thus started a life together of 57 years of wedded bliss and great adventure.

New Jersey Years

Frank started as a student at Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, New Jersey while Karis was both a teacher in the school system in northern New Jersey and did social work. Frank and Karis served churches in Paterson and Fort Lee, New Jersey. Those days were very tough since those were the darkest days of the Depression in the United States. Karis always wanted to go back to Asia as a missionary and it seems like Frank was very anxious to do the same. The chance came after the birth of their first child, Karis Elizabeth Manton, on October 9, 1936. In 1937 the Board of Missions of the Methodist Church sent them out to Burma to be the Minister of the Methodist English Church in Rangoon. They undertook this voyage when Karis was less than one year old.

The pre-War Years in Burma

The small Manton family (Frank, Karis and Karis Beth, as she was called) settled into a large wooden house behind the Methodist English School, which was just next to the Methodist English Church of which Frank had been, appointed the new pastor. Those were very happy years. Frank and Karis we getting used to living in British-ruled Burma when the war clouds gathered over Europe. In 1939, just before Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Thomas Brewster Manton was born on August 12, 1939 in Dufferin Hospital in Rangoon. He was always smiling and had a very happy disposition and therefore Grandmother Brewster who was still in China would ask by letter is “Sunny” still sunny? So the first two of the children’s nicknames were formed. Sissy for Karis Beth and Sunny for Thomas. On September 2, 1941 David Frank Manton was born also in Dufferin Hospital in Rangoon and due to his lovely light brown hair was called Sandy.

Several months later war came to Burma. On December 23, 1941 the Japanese conducted their first bombing of Rangoon. Immediately, Frank volunteered as an ambulance driver to pick by the dead and wounded. The second raid on Rangoon took place on Christmas Day of 1941. The American consular authorities and the British Government of Burma then ordered foreign women and children out of the country. They gave the order one night, days after Christmas, and said we must be on the ship, which leaves at 6 o’clock the next morning. Fearing further Japanese bombing, there was a complete black out for the entire city of Rangoon. Karis used very small candles to pack one small suitcase for herself and each of her three children. When they sailed the next morning, Karis did not know when she was to see Frank again, if ever. Karis took their three children – ages 4, 2 and 3 months by ship across the Bay of Bengal and then took them by train to a hill station in northern India called Almora to wait for her husband, Frank.

Frank stayed on through continued bombing of Rangoon where he continued to volunteer as an ambulance driver until Rangoon was declared by the British government an open city – in other words, a city the British could not or would no longer defend against the Japanese invading army. Frank packed a small suitcase with his Bible, hymn book, and walking stick, and some colleagues got into his 12 horsepower Opel and started driving north of Rangoon – on the Road to Mandalay. From Mandalay he drove on to Monywa where he abandoned his car in exchange for a riverboat up the Chindwin River – fleeing before the invading Japanese armies. As soon as he arrived in Kalawa, he started, along with hundreds of thousands of fellow refugees, the long trek to India. It was on that road that at least 50,000 people died for what they called “black water fever” or malignant malaria. Frank took great 8-mm black and white movies of this trek through as dense as any jungle in the world fleeing an invading army. By the grace of God, Frank survived the horrible walk of hundreds of miles through thick Burmese jungle to finally land up in northeastern India. He was then able to cable the fact that he was alive and catch a railroad to where his family was staying in Almora. It was a very, very happy family reunion.

“Peaceful India”

After a certain rest period, Frank was assigned to be Minister of the Taylor Memorial Church in Bombay, India. The family then moved to the parsonage, which was an apartment above the church. Frank, Karis and the family welcomed many refugees who were fleeing from the Japanese war in both Burma and China. A very special visit was Karis’ younger brother’s family who had a hair raising journey across war-torn China and then flew the famous “hump” from Kunming to Assam in India. Our family was go glad to see the Harold Brewster family with Dr. Harold, Dottie, Betty, Marybelle, Priscilla and David who had survived such an ordeal. All the adults and cousins had a great time until the Harold Brewsters sailed for the United States from Bombay.

During the hot season in Bombay, Karis took the children to the hill station of Mussoorie in the foothills of the Himalayans to get out of the heat of the plains and to attend Woodstock School, which had been founded in 1854 and was by now a very international school. The youngest Manton arrived just a month after Karis’ 41st birthday. William Arthur Manton was born in Landour Community Hospital on May 23, 1944, delivered by Dr. Bethel Fleming – a great missionary doctor who when on to found Nepal’s best hospital – Shanta Bhavan in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu. By that time Frank and Karis, somewhat with tongue in cheek added to the precious-given nick names of their other children – Sissy, Sunny, Sandy – and now it was Sufficient.

The now six members of the Manton family sailed from Bombay on August 12, 1944 – Thomas’ fifth birthday. That was his first memory because he got a box of dates for his birthday. The USS General A.E. Anderson was the troop ship on which the Mantons sailed back to the USA. There were mothers and 25 children (with Karis at 7 and Thomas at 5 and all the rest younger) in one cabin and then all the fathers and other men were in the hold. The ship was shadowed by Japanese subs as we left Bombay to sail down south of Australia (stopping in Melbourne overnight but not leaving the ship) and then zig zagging across the South Pacific, finally arriving in Long Beach, California — the USA where the younger half of the family had never been.

Sojourn in the United States

The Manton family then crossed the continent by train and bought a house in Tenafly, New Jersey where Frank’s oldest brother lived. He bought the house on Hickory Avenue for a princely sum of $6,000 and less than 18 months later – with the post-war boom in full swing – sold the same house for $14,000. To this missionary family, it was a fortune. The War was now over and it was time to return to Asia. We took the long way. First we traveled to Lakeside, Ohio – a Methodist campground on Lake Eire where we stayed for nearly 6 months. Then it was off to the west coast to take our ship to Asia. But sea transportation was still very limited and we ended up living with very generous relatives in Oroville, California for several months. Finally in March 1947 we sailed on the American President Lines’ SS Marine Adder back to Asia.

Back to India

While stopping in Manila we were told there were no accommodations for families in Rangoon since 12,000 permanent buildings has been destroyed in the city during the War. Therefore, Frank disembarked at Madras enroute to Rangoon. Karis and the rest of the family (aged 10, 7, 5 and 3) when on to Bombay and then took the train up to Woodstock School. The family was in India – “Present at the Creation” of independent India and Pakistan during August 1947. We were somewhat sheltered from the riots and partition that followed since we were up in the hills. Yet we were very aware of the incredible turmoil that was going on all around us where millions were killed while many Muslims fled to newly-created Pakistan, and Hindus fled from Pakistan back to the independent India. War broke out that year in Jammu and Kashmir between these two newly-independent former British colonies. War has never ceased since then.

At the beginning of December, the Manton family returned to Rangoon – by train to crowded Calcutta and then on to Rangoon by ship with as much war surplus food as we could manage to buy and carry from Calcutta. The big item was #10 tins of peanut butter by the case.

Return to Burma

Having seen the independence of India and Pakistan and the turmoil that brought, we were now going to see the birth of the other large British colony that was being given its independence.

A bit of wartime background might be useful at this point in the story.

A Note on inside wartime Burma

The student movement against the British during the late 1930s and the 1940s was critical to the independence of Burma from the British. The thirty “comrades” of this movement left secretly to be trained in Japan – the one Asian country that could help other Asians “throw off the yoke of British colonialism”. The leader of that group was a very young 25 year old man called Aung San. Another one of those comrades was 30 year old Ne Win. To the Burmese nationalist’s the invading armies were liberating the country from British colonial rule. Finally in 1943 the Japanese permitted these “comrades” to form a government with the much older Dr. Ba Maw as Prime Minister and the under 30 Aung San as Minister of Defense and Commander of the Burmese Army. Thirteen years after that I had the fascinating opportunity of interviewing Dr. Ba Maw.

At the end of 1943 and early 1944 this same Burmese leadership came to the conclusion that they were really a puppet government under the Japanese military Command. At that time, secretly, the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) was formed by Aung San and others. The AFPFL then became the leading post-war political party in Burma led by Thakin Nu who was Burma’s first Prime Minister.

Aung San and his colleagues (including Ne Win) were continuing to train the Burmese army to oppose the now re-invading British and allied army coming from India. Finally as the Allied army reached central Burma and passed Toungoo on its march southward, with huge fanfare, the Burma National Army departed Rangoon to allegedly fight along side their Asian brethren, the Japanese. The Japanese army was retreating southward as the Allied forces were pushing them very hard. The Burma National Army then came up from the south and trapped substantial number of Japanese troops in a pincer movement – a plan that Aung San conceived and implemented with great secrecy and effectiveness. Thus Aung San became a hero to many persons on the allied side.

Yet all were not at all happy with his long term collaboration with the then-hated Japanese military. Some of the important tribal groups, like the Shans and the Karens, just to mention two, were very loyal to the British during the entire war and in turn were promised independence after the war. Yet because Aung San represented the majority Burmans, the British had to deal with Aung San and didn’t want the country to be dismembered into many smaller states. Yet there were people in the British military that still thought of Aung San as a traitor to the allied cause and wanted to kill him. It is being charge now that some of those English elements collaborated with U Saw, a rival to Aung San as Burma’s first independent Prime Minister, to kill Aung San. Just on this trip to Burma I saw for the first time the actual room where the cabinet was meeting and where half of them were killed on July 19, 1947 including Boyoke Aung San. His daughter, Ma Suu Kyi, was two years old at the time.

This struggle between the majority Burmans and the various minority groups has continued to this day and has had a profound affect on Burma’s political life.

Now back to the main story…

Return to Burma

When the Manton family returned to Rangoon by ship during the early part of December – Burma was still reeling under the shock of half the Cabinet being assassinated. The bodies of the fallen heroes of the country were still laying-in-state in the Jubilee Hall – named after the Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Thomas remembers being taken by his parents to pay our respects to Boyoke Aung San who was laid out in a glass enclosed coffin. He had never seen a dead person before and therefore along with the soldiers “barking” orders, he was very scared but it is indelibly printed in his memory.

It was wonderful to have the whole family together again for the first time in Burma for Christmas. We lived with another missionary family in a three-story building where at first all six of us shared one large room partitioned off by cupboards and curtains. It was luxury when the older other couple moved to another residence and we had two rooms for the six of us.

Towards the end of 1947 we were told that independence would arrive at 4:20 AM on January 4th, 1948 – a time set as auspicious by the astrologers. Consequently we all got up at 4 AM on that date, lite our candles which occupied each window of this three story building and at 4:20 AM heard the 21 gun salute sounded by the guns of the HMS Birmingham as the last British Governor went up the light crusier’s gangway and the Union of Burma was born.

Burma was independent! The British were gone. Then the various ethnic groups in Burma tried to assert their independence towards the government of the Union of Burma. Revolt abounded by all kinds of groups, both ethnic and political.

During those days Karis became very good friends of many of the Burmese women leaders starting with Daw Khin Kyi, the widow of the fallen founder of modern Burma – Aung San. Daw Khin Kyi asked Karis to join the newly created National Council of Woman of Burma (NCWB). Karis was the only non-Burmese Daw Khin Kyi asked to join that premiere group of the woman leaders of Burma. NCWB undertook many social welfare projects throughout the country. Karis remained a member of that all-Burmese national woman organization until she left Burma in 1966. Karis was President of NCWB for one or more terms – a very high honor given to no other foreigner. Karis was fully accepted as a Burmese woman leader.

Methodist English School and its refounding

Frank had arrived in Rangoon in April 1947 and started to rebuild the Methodist institutions from the moment he arrived. The Methodist English Church was not destroyed since it was the Burma headquarters of the Indian National Army led by Subbas Chandra Bose. The Methodist English School was destroyed by British bombing and fighting in Rangoon as the war ended in Burma. It had to be completely rebuilt. That was Frank’s task.

The 33-year old Doreen Logie had been a teacher in the Methodist English School before the War and now had returned from India with her Scots husband, George, who was the Burma representative of the Valvoline Oil Company and their 5 year old daughter, Gillian. Frank, as the new Chairman of the Board of Trustees of a destroyed school, asked Doreen to be the Principal of the new school. So many people said that there was not enough money for the school to be rebuilt and education was now the tasks of the soon to be independent government of Burma. Frank was stubborn and adamant that the school must be re-started and rebuilt! Frank found from the Crusade Fund, which had been formed by American Methodists over US$1,000,000 to start the rebuilding process. Today that one million would be closer to one hundred million.

Thus started a partnership between Chairman Frank Manton and Principal Doreen Logie that made history in Burma.

The school was started in the church of which Frank was minister and Doreen was organist. They expected 30 students – 40 showed up. By the end of the first term there were 90 students. Then Frank, with money from American Methodists, started rebuilding the school – room by room. The school had over one hundred students when some classes we moved from the church to the school. Major building was done during 1948. Frank was in charge of the reconstruction and sometimes acted as the construction overseer, and Doreen ran the school as Principal. By 1949 the major reconstruction was completed and the Logies had an apartment at the top floor of one end of the school and the Mantons had an apartment at the end of the school next to the church. Soon the Mantons’ apartment was needed for more school classrooms and therefore Frank designed a U-shaped home that was built behind the church and the Mantons moved into that house. The Logie family remained in their apartment atop the school.

The Methodist English School was known as MEHS and still is referred to as MEHS by everyone.

When Thomas taught physical education there in the year between high school and going away to college (1956-7), there where 5,400 students attending MEHS in both the morning school and the afternoon school. Thomas received Ks. 150 per month or at that exchange rate US$30 per month. The current exchange rate for Ks. 150 is 30 US cents.

In September of 1998, a Minister of Burma’s cabinet called MEHS “the best school in Burma.” So many would agree. It has educated several generations of leaders in Burma from all walks of life. All of Ne Win’s six children went to MEHS their entire schooling. Aung San Suu Kyi was a student there before her mother, Daw Khin Kyi, was named as Burma’s Ambassador to India and Nepal. The wives of many of Burma’s current generals were students of MEHS. An overwhelming number of the leaders of the National League for Democracy are MEHS students and graduates.

Frank’s tasks and positions in Burma

Frank was also Chairman of the Trustees of Kingswood School in Kalaw, the Southern Shan States. Karis Beth and Thomas attended this school in 1948 while David and William stayed at home and attended MEHS.

Frank was the District Superintendent of the Methodist Church’s English speaking work, Tamil, Hindi and Telegu speaking work and the Chinese speaking work during the early post war era. He was later the equivalent of the Head of the Methodist work in Burma – not called a Bishop but had all the powers of a Bishop.

Frank was the long term Chairman of the Rangoon Charitable Society. He was also for a time the President of the American Association of Burma.

Further on Karis’ tasks and positions

Frank and Karis made a tremendous impact on the life of Burma, even though they were foreigners… but were they?

Karis held many positions in the YWCA including as its National President. She was very, very active in grass roots work with the church, the YWCA and her many other organizations that she was involved with.

With her sister, Mary Brewster Hollister, Karis published four editions of the famous Rangoon International Cookbook, which is still treasured by so many people in Burma and around the world. It has become a collector’s item.

The Final Years

My dad died in Urbana in Oct. 1987. In 1988 I took my mother as the guest of the Fujian Provincial Govt. to China… to Hinghwa (now called Putian) where she was born to celebrate her 85th birthday. It was an occasion that we all never forgot. It was days of feasting and remembrances and loving… a wonderful capstone to a marvelous life. The top communist in the province was also born in Hinghwa and used to attend both the church my grandparents founded as well as go to the school… like the Methodist English School and the Methodist English Church. He was a student of my mother’s mother.

My mother was treated like a Queen during that whole day. She “held court” in the morning and people came for miles around to see her. She was given a wonderful lunch by the Mayor and city government where they imported a three tier cake from 70 miles away to make sure they had the right kind so they could put on 85 candles. When they went to light the candles they made a mistake of lighting the outside tier first… smiles. We all helped them with the inside ones… very carefully.

In the afternoon was the main celebration. The Chinese had renovated a building that had been a warehouse shortly before but was built in 1936 by my mother’s mother in honor of her father and her father-in-law. Specially for this birthday occasion they turned it into a senior citizens’ center with a huge hall. When I escorted mother there I felt like I was taking the Queen to her audience. There were 1,400 people waiting to greet her from all over the area. There was a service of celebration whose highlight was mother’s speech. She started the speech in Putian dialect. She was so overcome by the moment. She said that her heart is so filled that the tears were coming out of her eyes… she said it in a most poetic way. After which she had to revert to English which then had to be interpreted to Mandarin Chinese and then again into Putian dialect. During mother’s speech there was not a dry eye in the whole house of 1,400 people.

That night the Church members gave mother a Chinese banquet and there was wonderful fellowship with them… about 200 people in the State Guest house.

As I mentioned, it was a highlight of our lives.

On Dec. 30, 1989, after suffering a heart attack, mother gathered her four children around her hospital bed and said good bye to each one of us. Then she quietly joined her husband of 57 years and her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Several days later the family and many friends joined together to celebrate the wonderful life she lived.


The impact of this remarkable couple has been vast. The results of the leadership they provided in Burma still has its impact through so many of the institutions they affected. Frank greatest achievement was the re-building and leadership in MEHS. Karis’ major contribution was the quiet yet forceful leadership she provided in NCWB and the other organizations with which she was associated.

Their children are very, very proud of them. It is hoped their grandchildren will learn more about them so they can be proud of them as well.

MEHS still is going strong with 6,500 students and is considered probably the best school in Burma by so many people in all walks of live.

Thomas Manton
March 30, 2000

By Myo

Myo Thant aka Michael Tin Hla during my MEHS years graduated in 1964. After graduation, I completed my medical school before I left for US. Currently, I reside in Maryland, retired from my hematology/oncology clinical practice but works at VA Hematology/Oncology clinic part time. My house at MEHS was Judson and I am proud to be a green martian.