Everyone knows of the tragic fate of the great ocean liner RMS Titanic.
She was a state of the art engineering masterpiece, designed to offer a degree of comfort and opulence to the few and a means of transatlantic crossing to the masses of immigrants hoping for a new life in America. All came to an abrupt end in the cold waters of the North Atlantic on April 15th 1912.
Class distinction was rife in the days when the mighty ship met her end, as was a lack of care and responsibility for the crew, the employees of the owners, The White Star Line. At the moment of the sinking all her crew were automatically paid off by the company. Not only did the grieving families of the crew suffer a personal loss but all the financial support from their loved and lost ones terminated in an instant.
The survivors, sitting in the lifeboats got away from the stricken ship leaving the bulk of the others struggling in the icy waters. These fortunate ones were mostly picked from the sea by the Cunard liner Carpathia. She took these lucky few on to New York, the planned destination of the voyage. Other ships arrived on the scene of course but the site was one of sadness and death, strangely calm and windless.
Many of the wealthy families whose relatives had perished wanted to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones so as to be able to give respectful burials. The nearest major port to the site was Halifax so it was thought best to charter and send out a suitable vessel from there. This was duly done and the CS Mackay – Bennett arrived on 17th April.
The recovery ship picked up very many deceased persons and in the manner of the class conscious instructions given to the crew firstly the well dressed and wealthy looking bodies were taken on board and stored in the available spaces. However these spaces quickly filled up so that burial at sea was deemed appropriate especially for anyone wearing a boiler suit or a cheap, shabby dress. There was a financial aspect to the activity in that the wealthy families were prepared to pay for the service whereas the immigrants and common seamen had no one able to reimburse anyone.
There was one incident though where instructions and financial incentives didn’t mean anything.
The crew of the rescue ship saw, floating in the ocean, a dead child aged about two years. After all the horror they had seen surrounding the site of the wreck this last image broke their hearts. They tenderly took the child, a boy and stored his body aboard. Each man resolved that they would use a portion of their earnings from the grisly business to give the unknown child a loving burial.
The city of Halifax allotted a site in the city cemetery to bury the many recovered bodies that had not been claimed by relatives or were unidentified. They approached White Star Line to cover the costs involved. The Shipping line refused to accept any of the costs. Incensed by the callous reaction of the company the city advised the line that unless they did so they would never dock a ship in Halifax ever again. As the city was a regular calling port for immigrants to Canada and as such was a source of earnings for White Star Line they capitulated. The crew of the rescue vessel did pay for a full funeral for the little orphan and he was buried in the first grave at the head of the sad line. In the coffin the rescuers placed a copper pendant bearing the inscription “Our Babe” as no other knowledge of the child’s identity was available. Now as this particular funeral was being paid for with no price restrictions the crew specified that the grave be surrounded by a sheet of copper provided by them. This was placed on the downward side of the slope on the hillside where the graves lie.
Now many decades later this action has had repercussions. When DNA testing was discovered it was decided to try to test the remains from the unmarked graves on the site to attempt to put names to all the bodies. But, the site is on a hillside and when exhumation started it was discovered that over the decades in the damp soil all the bones had slid down the slope and had ended up in a mix of remains at the bottom of the hill. All that is except the remains of the child that had been locked in the one site, retained there by the impervious copper sheets insisted upon by the kindly crewmen.
As a result only the body of the little boy was identified, a hundred years after his tragic end from the recovered DNA. Nowadays you can visit the grave, see his name, and photograph and pay respects to little Sidney Leslie Goodwin who died before his second birthday on that fateful night. We now know that his entire family, eight people in all were lost and no remains ever found. In a turn of fate of the type often noticed after other accidents it’s been discovered that the family were in fact booked to sail on the SS New York. However due to delays caused by a coal strike going on at the time they were transferred to the Titanic just before sailing. Without that trick of fate this story would never have needed to be told.
Of interest, amongst the other graves there is a one with a named occupant, one Jack Dawson. Unfortunately he bears no connection with a character played by the film actor Leonardo de Caprio. This guy spent his time aboard shovelling coal in the boiler room; obviously much less entertaining a pursuit than cavorting with Rose in the back seat of an expensive car in the hold!