Michał Martyna was born in 1899 in the Galician region of the Austrian Partition. His grandfather was a game warden, a privileged position that provided free pastureland and wood for the family. Michał wasn’t old enough to serve in the First World War but in 1919 he was conscripted into the new Polish Army to serve in the Polish-Soviet War.

During the Battle of Lwów, Michał barely escaped with his life. Michał’s battalion, out numbered by about fifty-to-one, was surrounded and killed, but he and two friends escaped and hid in a barn. Michał jumped into a stack of straw behind an eight-foot wall while his friends hid in other parts of the barn. Unfortunately, three Cossacks had followed them. They found his two friends but Michał remained hidden. After the Cossacks took a brief cigarette break, they shot their two captives in the back.

Michał remained out of sight. That night a group of Russian soldiers came in to find a place to sleep. They actually slept on top of the haystack where Michał was hidden but he still avoided detection. When he finally left the barn, he stole clothes from a scarecrow to disguise himself as a civilian. He walked until he eventually found safety with a Polish patrol. Michał had other close calls during the war but managed to survive to return to the family farm.

In 1926 Michał decided to emigrate to Canada. He worked odd jobs in Chipman before signing on with the Canadian National Railway. While working in Edgerton he met and married Mary Dzięgło and they began raising a family. Michałdecided to take his foreman exams in the early 1940s and after a number of postings he was eventually given a job in St. Albert in 1953. After thirty-eight years with the CNR, Michal retired in 1964. In spite of his brushes with death in Poland, Michał lived to the age of ninety-three.

Michal Martyna arrives at the ‘immigration shed’ on Pier 21 in Halifax. He is seated in the second row, fifth from the right, 1926. Courtesy of Ed and Ron Martyna.