As RMS Titanic, the Ship of Dreams, was sinking on the night of April 14, 1912, nobody was spared from experiencing the catastrophe on board, not even the youngest ones.
Michel Marcel Navratil was almost four-years-old at the time and his brother Edmond Roger Navratil was aged two. They survived the disaster as there was a place for them on Collapsible D, the ninth and final life-saving vessel that was lowered from the ship’s port side.
The two brothers were settled in the boat by Mr. Michel Navratil, their father. This was the last memory the boys would have of him — the crew would allow women and children only into the lifeboats so he had to remain on board the stricken ship.
In the aftermath of the sinking, people dubbed them the Titanic Orphans. The French-speaking children didn’t understand English and knew only their nicknames, Lolo and Momon. They were the only children who made it to safety but remained unclaimed by any guardian.
Until they could be reunited with a close family member, they were cared for by a woman who lived in New York City and was also a Titanic survivor. She spoke French and she could communicate with the boys.
It took a month and dozens of newspaper appeals with photographs of Lolo and Momon before their mother was found. Ms. Marcelle Caretto, an Italian woman who lived in Nice, France, was brought to New York on May 16, 1912.
But how did it come to that? Why were the boys traveling only accompanied by their father? Why wasn’t their mother present with them?
Ms. Caretto didn’t have any idea her sons were being taken to the United States. She had never granted such permission to the boys’ father, her former husband. After their divorce earlier that year, full custody of the boys was awarded to Ms. Caretto.
Mr. Navratil was only able to see the children over weekends and holidays. So he plotted a clandestine agenda for the Easter weekend — to take his sons with him and start a new life in America. He picked up the boys on Good Friday, April 5, 1912, just days before the Titanic was to commence her fateful maiden journey.
From France, Mr. Navratil traveled to England. He had purchased three second-class tickets but under the false name of Hoffman. The three boarded at Southampton on April 10, 1912.
On board, Mr. Navratil rarely let the children out of his sight. He was possibly a bit paranoid that someone might expose his real identity. Ms. Caretto was probably outraged when she realized both her children missing. It likely never crossed her mind the boys’ father was taking them so far away. But he did, and as you know it didn’t end so well.
The body of Mr. Michel Navratil was among those recovered from the ocean. Because his assumed name as recorded on the ship’s manifest was Jewish, he was buried at the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The boys seem to have kept only fond memories of the journey. Michel Marcel recalled later in life that the Titanic was a “magnificent ship.” He reminisced about playing with his brother, the image of the sea, and what they had for breakfast one morning: eggs in the second-class dining room. He did not remember feeling fear. Only that he fell asleep after they were placed in the lifeboat.
Michel Marcel Navratil passed away at the age of 92, in 2001. According to the Titanic Historical Society, he was the last male Titanic survivor. After him, four more female survivors remained alive. In his adult life, he lived in Montpellier, France, and worked as a university professor of psychology.
His younger brother Edmond joined the French troops during World War Two. He did not reach longevity like his brother. During the war was held captive in an enemy camp but he eventually fled. His health worsened in the years after the war and he passed away aged 43.