Confederation Marine Modellers

Nautical lore - Charles Herbert Lightoller - 2nd mate of RMS Titanic and survivor of multiple shipwrecks.

           Charles Herbert Lightoller was born in Chorley, Lancashire, on 30 March 1874. At age 13, not wanting to end up with a factory job like most of Britain's youth at the time, young Charles began a four-year seafaring apprenticeship on board the barque Primrose Hill. On his second voyage, he set sail with the crew of the Holt Hill, and during a storm on 13 November 1889 in the Indian Ocean, the vessel ran aground on an uninhabited four-and-a-half-square-mile island now called Île Saint-Paul. The island was uninhabited and unable to support habitation. He was lucky to be rescued by another vessel eight days later. He continued seagoing for another nine years.
            Lightoller came to Canada in 1898 and joined the gold rush, prospecting for gold in the Yukon. Being unsuccessful in finding his fortune in gold and almost dying of starvation, Lightoller briefly worked as a cowboy in the Canadian west. Although he enjoyed working as a cowboy, he quickly found out he couldn't make money at it. He had made a deal with himself before leaving England that if he failed he would simply return home, and that's what he did. He travelled as a hobo across Canada's railways to Winnipeg. When he arrived there the city was in the midst of an international festival and Lightoller managed to earn some extra cash painting and putting up spectator stands. After three weeks he got on a train for Montreal, this time as a paying passenger. In exchange for his sea passage back to England, he worked as a wrangler on a cattle boat.
            In January 1900 he resumed his seagoing career as fourth officer of White Star Line's SS Medic. The second time he was shipwrecked was, of course, on the Titanic in 1912. As the senior surviving officer, Lightoller was a key witness at both the American and British inquiries. In his autobiography he described the American inquiry as a "farce", due to the ignorance of maritime matters implicit in some of the questions. He took the British inquiry more seriously. Some of his recommendations made at the inquiries were acted on by the Board of Trade, such as basing lifeboat capacity on numbers of passengers and crew instead of ship tonnage, conducting lifeboat drills so passengers know where their lifeboats are and crew know how to operate them, instituting manned 24-hour wireless (radio) communications in all passenger ships, and requiring mandatory transmissions of ice warnings to ships.
            When the First World War broke out he was First Officer aboard the White Star Line's Oceanic, which was converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser under the Royal Navy's control. She was patrolling an area around the Shetland Islands when she ran aground on the Shaalds, a hidden reef east of the island of Foula. There was an orderly evacuation into the lifeboats, but he returned to the ship and recovered the ship's clock.
            Later during the war he commanded the destroyer Falcon. Falcon was sunk on 1 April 1918 after a collision, in fog, with the trawler, John Fitzgerald, while both ships were acting as escorts to a convoy in the North Sea. The destroyer broke in two and he found himself in the water again when the stern finally sank - at 2:20am, almost to the minute that the Titanic sank. Lightoller was quickly exonerated in a court martial for the loss of the ship, and he was commended for remaining on board the ship, along with his first officer, until the majority of the crew had been evacuated to the boats (apart from three officers who were left trapped in the stern and had to be rescued by a trawler). He was picked up by a trawler that had been sent to pick up survivors.
            After the war he found promotion to command a ship blocked within the White Star Line for those associated with the Titanic, and he quit seafaring.
            In 1930, he bought the hulk of an ex-navy steam picket, had it rebuilt & named Sundowner. He took part in the Dunkirk evacuation, taking the Sundowner across the Channel on 1st June 1940, and bringing back 130 survivors.
            Lightoller died in 1952. His Sundowner is now owned by the East Kent Maritime Trust and moored in Margate, Kent, UK.

Information from "Titanic Voyager" by Patrick Stenson, and wikipedia.