Mrs Iisak Kujala Turkula was born as Hedwig Erkkilä-Holma in Jalasjärvi, Finland on 6 June 1847.1
She was the daughter of Salomon Erkkilä (1817-1869) and Anna-Brita Samuellintytär Aittomäki (b. 1820), both farmers, and she had six known siblings: Samuel (b. 1845), Jonas (b. 1850), Salomon (b. 1853), Marija (b. 1855), Anna Loviisa (b. 1858), Susanna (b. 1860) and Hilma (b. 1862).
She was later to married to Iisak Kujala Turkula (b. June 1846) and with him raised a large family.
Her nine children were: Susanna Josefina (1871-1917, later Mrs Elias Harju), Anna Matilda (1873-1876), Lempi Maria (1875-1942, later Kuivanen), Hedwig Serefina (1881-1930, later Mrs Gustave Edmund Gustavesen), Johan Gregorius (1879-1950), Hilma (1883-1968, later Mrs Otto Mattson), Elina Justiina (1886-1888), Iisak Feliks (1893-1937) and Sameli Urho (1893-1975).
Her son Johan (John) had emigrated to Minnesota around 1900 where he ran a homestead and he would be followed by all but one of his surviving siblings: Susanna, Hedwig, Hilma, Felix and Sameli. Only Lempi remained in Finland where she and her husband had six children. Hedwig became a widow when her husband passed away on 16 March 1902 and she saw the last few of her other children emigrate before the close of the decade.
With only her daughter Lempi and her family in Finland it was decided that she would emigrate to Minnesota where her other children lived and perhaps could care for her better. The Duluth News Tribune (20 April 1912) reported that her sons John and Felix had forwarded their mother a ticket through one of the local steamship agencies, supposedly originally supposed to have been a Cunard ship sailing from Helsinki but by some misunderstanding (or perhaps the coal strike) the ticket was routed to the White Star Line in Liverpool and her sons later received a letter telling them that she would sail aboard Titanic. She began her journey from her home in Jalasjärvi on 3 April.
Mrs Turkula boarded Titanic at Southampton on 10 April 1912 as a third class passenger (ticket number 4134 which had cost £9, 11s, 9d) and she shared a cabin with five younger Finnish women and a child: Anna Turja, Kristina Sofia Laitinen, sisters Katriina and Maria Jussila and Helga Hirvonen and her young daughter Hildur.
On the night of 14 April 1912 Mrs Turkula reported that she and her cabin mates were all sleeping but were awakened by commotion outside their cabin. Whilst not clear what happened next she described general confusion but did heap praise aboard a fellow-Finn, Eino Lindquist, the brother of her cabin companion Helga Hirvonen. Eino reportedly guided she a few others up to the upper decks.
Mrs Turkula described that when she reached the upper decks Mr Lindquist was forced to stand back at the point of a revolver wielded by an officer and stated that the panic ensuing around was widespread, with "... shouts, imprecations, prayers, sobs and screams..." until the officers restored some order. She was passed into a lifeboat by a "minor officer" that she believed was intoxicated and whom she did not see again.
It is not clear in which lifeboat Mrs Turkula was rescued (some place her in one of the aft starboard lifeboats, possibly 13 or 15) but she described the lifeboat as being only filled by two thirds, mainly women, and could have comfortably taken more people. Three crewmen worked at the oars whilst a fourth oar was handled by a woman who "struggled bravely." Once out from the ship a short distance those at the oars rested and Mrs Turkula watched the tragedy unfold in front of her. She reported that cries could be heard coming from the ship and she watched as Titanic's lights gradually disappeared before being extinguished.
Once Titanic had sank Mrs Turkula heard the cries of those left in the water and described how they became fainter as time went one before finally being subdued. She and the boat's other occupants huddled together to keep warm and prayed and she noted how the lifeboat's crew anxiously scanned the horizon for a rescue ship; as day broke she began to see other lifeboats around her own and finally saw the Carpathia appearing on the horizon. The sight caused several in her lifeboat, who she reported to have been stoic throughout their ordeal, to break down.
The elderly Mrs Turkula was hauled up Carpathia's side, she being too infirm to brave the ladders thrown down for others; upon reaching the deck she was overjoyed to see Eino Lindquist, whom, it appears, she owed her life.
Having suffered no ill-effects from her ordeal, albeit for a slight cold as a result from her exposure in the lifeboat, Mrs Turkula was released from St Vincent's Hospital in New York on 23 April and placed on a train to Minnesota wearing a large green label around her neck; the label, placed on her by St Vincent's staff, gave her name and destination, asking train staff to pay her every courtesy as she was a Titanic survivor.
Mrs Turkula arrived in Hibbing, Minnesota on 25 April 1912, reportedly in excellent health save for her cold; she was then interviewed for Duluth News Tribune (published 26 April 1912), who noted how she was dressed as a "Finnish peasant" would be. She was taken as a guest to the home of Mr and Mrs William Lundquist of Superior Street in Hibbing where she remained for one night; whilst here she had a good many callers, men and women from all walks of life from labourers to ministers who wanted to meet her. The following day she travelled with her sons to their homes in Lavell, Minnesota.
Hedwig spent her final days living with her family in Minnesota; she was shown on the 1920 census living with her daughter Hilma (Mrs Otto Mattson) on their farm in Lavell; she never learned to speak English and in later years became afflicted with senility. She suffered the death of her eldest child Susanna (Mrs Elias Harju) when she died on 16 January 1917 aged 45.
Hedwig Turkula eventually succumbed to influenza and died in Lavell, Minnesota on 3 April 1922 aged 74; she was buried in Little Swan Cemetery, Minnesota.
Her last surviving child, Sam, died in St Louis, Minnesota on 7 September 1975 and her only child who remained in Finland, Lempi Kuivanen, died on 7 March 1942.