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The Good Stuff
The Titanic and "Our Babe"
by B. A. Llewellyn
Length: 806 words

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The Titanic and "Our Babe"

The Titanic created a truly international tragedy with its many victims coming from countries all over the world such as Argentina, Norway, Austria, Denmark, England, Sweden, Italy, America, Greece, Ireland, France, Cuba, Belgium and even from as far away as Sydney, Australia.

Emilia Maria Panula and her five sons were from Finland.  They were travelling to America to join husband and father, Juho Panula.

Emilia Maria Ojala married Juho Panula on February 14, 1892.  They immigrated to Coal Center, a small community near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, America in 1904, and saved enough money to return to their native Finland in 1911 and buy a small farm.  Tragedy soon struck them, when their 9-year-old daughter drowned in a local river.  Husband and wife decided to return to America.

Juho went on ahead to secure work and housing.  Emilia Maria stayed behind with the children to finalise the sale of their farm, then booked third class tickets on the Titanic for herself, their children Ernest (17 years old), Jaakko (15 years old), Juho, (7 years old), Urho (2 years old), Eino (the baby of the family), and their babysitter Sanni, who was twenty two years old.

When the ship started to sink, Emilia Maria was offered a seat, along with her youngest child, in one of the lifeboats.  The devoted mother refused to leave without her other four sons, who clung to her in fear and desperation.  Emilia Maria was heard to cry “Do we all have to die by water”?  Unfortunately her statement forecast the truth.  Emilia Maria and her five sons drowned that day.

The nearest major port to the Titanic tragedy was Halifax, which quickly sent boats to retrieve all the bodies they could find.  The crewmembers were paid double for their time in this harrowing rescue, but most of them were already determined to do whatever they could to help.

The seamen were uniformly shocked by their first sight of the bodies floating in the water, particularly because life jackets were keeping the victims afloat in a very lifelike manner.  When the small body of a child was recovered, it severely affected all the sailors and they pledged to take care of the boy’s funeral expenses if no one came forward to claim him.

Three hundred and twenty eight bodies were recovered from the icy waters.  One hundred and nineteen were buried at sea, due to their physical deterioration and the shortage of hygienic storage facilities on the boats.  Two hundred and nine bodies were returned to Halifax, but 60 victims were at the time unidentified.  Amongst the unclaimed bodies was the little blonde haired boy who had so moved the sailor’s hearts.  He was the only child to be reclaimed from the sea and, to many people, he represented all the children who died in the tragic accident.

True to their word, the crewmembers of the rescue ships organised the funeral for the unknown child.  They placed him in a white casket on a bed of roses and put a plaque on his chest claiming him to be “Our Babe”.   The little boy’s small coffin was then escorted to Fairview Lawn Cemetery.  His funeral was the only funeral held that day and most of the population of Halifax came to say “Goodbye”.  The devoted seamen also paid for “their” child’s headstone with the words “Erected to the memory of an unknown child whose remains were recovered after the disaster to the ‘Titanic’ April 15th 1912”.

It was to take ninety years before “Our Babe” was finally identified.  In November, 2002, through the miracle of DNA testing, thirteen month old Eino Viljami Panula was finally named, and claimed by his family.

Fairview Lawn Cemetery is built on a gently sloping hill and many of the graves have suffered water damage, escalating the decaying process and eradicating all traces of the buried bodies.  “Our Babe” was buried higher on the slope but his body was almost gone.  All that was left in the tiny grave were three small teeth and a 6cm sliver of bone, attached to the plaque given by the seamen.  It wasn’t much, but it was enough.

The crewmen not only buried and mourned Eino, their love and generosity also made his identification possible, even though that identification did not come until long after their own deaths.  The copper plaque they placed on the Titanic’s young victim eventually ensured that today’s forensic scientists would be able to test for a genetic match and give the child back his identity.

Eino’s descendants decided to leave their eternally young relative’s grave in Halifax, honouring the many mourners who still grieve the large loss of life on the Titanic and the crewmen who, long ago, had loved and honoured the little child.

 Titanic With Iceberg
Titanic With Iceberg
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