The release of a new novel about the Titanic has thrown the spotlight back on a remarkable story of two brothers who were put onto the last lifeboat by their father who died in the disaster.
Actress Celia Imrie penned Orphans of the Storm, out today, which is based on the true story of Michel and Edmond Navratil, four and two, and their parents Marcella Cartteo and her husband Michael.
As Michael and Marcela battled through a bitter split, the father-of-two ‘kidnapped’ the children and took them onto the Titanic to start a new life in New York.
However when the boat sank, he threw Michel and Edmond onto the last lifeboat – and it was only weeks later that their mother Marcella was tracked down.
While researching the book, Celia learned Michael had been ‘cruel and abusive’ to Marcella, and said she was keen to write the novel to redeem the mother-of-two.
Orphans of the Storm, by actress Celia Imrie, is released today and follows a young seamstress Marcela Caretto as her husband, Michael, boards the ship with their two sons to travel to New York
Celia said the book came about after she saw a ‘very touching photograph’ of the boys, saying: ‘They were literally thrown into the very last lifeboat leaving the Titanic.
‘The lifeboat was already leaving, going down, and they were thrown down.’
She said the whole book was based on Marcella, who fell in love with the tailor Michael, saying: ‘They get married, open their own shop dressmaking and the first baby is born and she’s very happy.
‘But after the second baby he is very cruel and abusive to her. Aged 21, she starts divorce proceedings.’
Appearing on Lorraine today, Celia revealed how she was inspired by the true story of Michel and Edmond Navratil, four and two, after seeing a photograph of the brothers at an exhibition
The boys’ parents had separated in early 1912 and Marcelle was awarded full custody of the children.
However, she allowed her sons to stay with their father over the Easter weekend and he instead decided to emigrate to the United States.
Celia said: ‘He then kidnaps the two boys, takes them to Nice to Calais, to Southampton and with a false passport, he boards the Titanic.
‘The poor darling mother has no idea where they are. Had she known…what utter misery for her.’
Speaking to the Irish Times, Celia revealed she had uncovered a series of ‘extraordinary facts’ about Marcella and her husband while researching the novel.
She said while Marcella had been painted as ‘a nightmare’, divorce documents revealed Michael was controlling and narcassistic.
She added: ‘Marcella had been painted in such a wrong way. In fact she was the injured party.’
Amid the separation, Michael travelled to England with their sons following a brief stay in Monte Carlo before boarding the doomed ship.
In later life, Michel recalled his memories of the Titanic as a ‘magnificent ship’.
Through a translation he said: ‘I remember looking down the length of the hull – the ship looked splendid. My brother and I played on the forward deck and were thrilled to be there.
The boys became known as ‘Louis and Lola’ – the only children to be rescued from the Titanic without a parent or guardian (pictured)
‘One morning, my father, my brother, and I were eating eggs in the second-class dinning room. The sea was stunning. My feeling was one of total and utter well-being.
‘I don’t recall being afraid, I remember the pleasure, really, of going plop! into the life-boat. We ended up next to the daughter of an American banker who managed to save her dog – no one objected.
‘There were vast differences of people’s wealth on the ship, and I realised later that if we hadn’t been in second-class, we’d have died. The people who came out alive often cheated and were aggressive, the honest didn’t stand a chance.’
Michel and Edmond must have felt a sense of relief when they finally made it on to the last lifeboat to be successfully launched from the sinking Titanic.
Despite their tender years, the brothers – aged just four and two – would have been aware of the terror and hysteria that had engulfed those still trapped on the stricken vessel.
They were placed on the lifeboat by their father – but it was the last time they ever saw him.
Celia’s new book Orphans of the Storm was inspired by the story of the two young brothers on the Titanic (pictured)
After placing them on the lifeboat, their father died during the sinking. They were among the 700 passengers picked up by the Carpathia.
The boys became known as ‘Louis and Lola’ – the only children to be rescued from the Titanic without a parent or guardian.
According to the website Retronaut, Michel later claimed to remember his father telling him: ‘My child, when your mother comes for you, as she surely will, tell her that I loved her dearly and still do.
‘Tell her I expected her to follow us, so that we might all live happily together in the peace and freedom of the New World.’
The youngsters, who were French, spoke no English and they were unable to identify themselves to rescuers.
As a result, a French-speaking passengers called Margaret Hays cared for the brothers until their mother was traced.
Celia said the book came about after she saw a ‘very touching photograph’ of the boys, who were ‘literally thrown onto the last lifeboat leaving the Titanic’
A number of newspaper articles about the boys – which included the publication of their photographs – eventually led to their mother, Marcelle, being traced.
She sailed to New York City and was finally reunited with her boys on May 16, 1912 – one month and one day after they made it off the Titanic alive.
One could only imagine the emotions their mother must have felt when she saw her sons, particularly as their father had covertly boarded the Titanic with the boys so the three of them could start a new life in America – without Marcelle.
Immortalised in films and brought to life with exhibits throughout the world featuring artefacts from the cabins that now lay 12,415 feet below sea level, the ship is undoubtedly one of the most famous in history.
The story of the disaster is well known: the ship left Southampton, England on its maiden voyage bound for New York.
With the intention of providing the world’s wealthy with an opulent trip, there were black tie dinners in the formal dining room, strolls along the promenade, and health treatments in the extravagant Turkish baths.
The horrific 1912 Titanic tragedy
Constructed by Belfast-based shipbuilders Harland and Wolff between 1909 and 1912, the RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat of her time.
Owned and operated by the White Star Line, the passenger vessel set sail on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on April 10, 1912.
The liner made two short stops en route to her planned Atlantic crossing — one at the French port of Cherbourg, the other at Cork Harbour, Ireland, where smaller vessels ferried passengers on and off board the Titanic.
Nearly five days into her voyage, the Titanic struck an iceberg at around 23:40 local time, generating six narrow openings in the vessel’s starboard hull, believed to have occurred as a result of the rivets in the hull snapping.
At just before midnight on April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg while travelling on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. Within three hours, the ‘unsinkable’ ship had slipped beneath the waves of the freezing Atlantic Ocean, killing more than 1,500 people
The Titanic took on water some fifteen times faster than could be pumped out, with the hull damage proving too extensive for the vessel’s watertight bulkheads to keep the flooding from spreading across the liner’s compartmentalised lower decks.
After around two-and-a-half hours, the vessel broke into two sections and sank, each settling to the seafloor around a third of a mile apart.
Around 1,500 people were believed lost in the tragedy, including around 815 of the liner’s passengers.
The ship’s main feature was the Grand Staircase. It was built from English solid oak, and enhanced with wrought iron. The decorated glass domes above were designed to let in as much natural light as possible
At its launch, the luxurious Titanic was the largest ship in the world, and was carrying some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as hundreds of people from Britain, Ireland, and elsewhere who were seeking a new life in the United States.
Eight Chinese men were on board and six survived, landing in New York three days later aboard the Carpathia, the first ship to arrive at the scene of the disaster.
Under the United States’ Chinese Exclusion Act, the men were transferred 24 hours later to a British steamship and sent to Cuba
Nearly five days into her voyage, the Titanic struck an iceberg at around 23:40 local time, generating six narrow openings in the vessel’s starboard hull, believed to have occurred as a result of the rivets in the hull snapping. Pictured, the iceberg believed to have sunk the Titanic
In spite of the spoils that the ships’ creators spent on the decoration within, the technology was not effective enough at the time to avoid an iceberg.
Though one of the lookouts spotted the iceberg and alerted the officer on duty, the ship was too large to turn and fully avoid the crash.
The iceberg skidded along the starboard side of the ship, damaging it repeatedly and poking fatal holes below the waterline of the ship.
If it had crashed head on, experts believe the ship would have survived.
But because of the length of the damage, and the fact that it was spread over so much of the starboard side of the ship, there was little that could be done to prevent it from sinking.
Once fully raised, the ship broke in two, with the front plowing dramatically down into the ocean and landing with such a thud that it caused visible changes in the bottom of the sea.
After dropping back to the water, the stern also filled with water but rather than copy the front half, it twisted and the steel mangled, essentially corkscrewing the ship as it sank to the bottom.
Photos of the wreck, now in its permanent resting place two miles below sea level, show the deterioration of the once magnificent ship.
The moment disaster struck: How The Titanic crashed into an iceberg before sinking hours later
April 10, 1912 (12:00):
The Titanic sets sail from Southampton to New York, calling at Cherbourg and Cork en route.
April 14 (09:00–22.30, ship’s time):
Marconi Company radio officers on the Titanic received a total of six warnings of ice in the vicinity, not all of which were passed on to the crew.
April 14 (23:39):
Lookout Frederick Fleet, in the crow’s nest, spots an iceberg dead ahead of the ship. Turning to port, the vessel managed to avoid a direct collision, but suffered a ‘glancing blow’ instead.
April 15 (00:05):
Captain Edward Smith orders abandon ship and has radio operators issue distress signals.
April 15 (02:05):
The Titanic’s final lifeboat is launched. Ten minutes later, the liner’s angle in the water increased rapidly, ultimately reaching over 30 degrees, as water reached previously unflooded parts of the ship through deck hatches.
April 15 (02:20):
The Titanic finally disappeared beneath the waves, some two hours and forty minutes after striking the iceberg.