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RMS Titanic Second Officer, Charles H. Lightoller

Charles H. Lightoller, DSC & Bar, R.D., R.N.R., Second Officer and Highest Ranking Officer to Survive the Sinking of the RMS Titanic.

Charles H. Lightoller, DSC & Bar, R.D., R.N.R., Second Officer and Highest Ranking Officer to Survive the Sinking of the RMS Titanic. nd circa 1925. GGA Image ID # 1702ba7faa

Fast Facts

Date of Birth: March 30 1874
Place of Birth: Chorley, Lancashire, England
Marital Status: Married
Spouse: Sylvia Hawley-Wilson
Children: 5 children: Roger, Trevor, Mavis, Doreen and Brian
Address (at time of Titanic disaster): Nikko Lodge, 110 Station Road, Netley Abbey village, Hampshire, England
Crew Position: Titanic's Second Officer
Service: DSC & Bar, R.D., R.N.R.
Date of Death: 8 December 1952
Cause of Death: Chronic heart disease, aged 78

One of the most wonderful escapes from the Titanic was that of the second officer, Mr. Charles Lightoller, whose evidence before the Senatorial Committee in New York was of great importance. On the night of the disaster he was in charge of the ship until 10 p.m., when he was relieved by the first officer, Mr. Murdock.

When the crash came, he supervised the lowering of the boats, and stuck to the ship until the water was up to his ankles. Asked at the inquiry whether he had sent the women first by Captain Smith's orders, or because it was the rule of the sea, he replied, “ It is the rule of human nature."

When the Titanic was actually sinking, Mr. Lightoller dived into the sea. He was sucked down and twice blown to the surface by explosions under water. He came up near a capsized collapsible boat and clung" to it. A funnel fell within a few inches of him and killed many swimmers. Eventually he was picked up by a lifeboat. He said, in his evidence, that the speed of the Titanic when she struck was between 21 and 22 knots. (The Illustrated London News, 11 May 1912, p. 686)

Charles Lightower (on right) with Third Officer Herbert J. Pitman in late April 1912.

Charles Lightower (on right) with RMS Titanic Third Officer Herbert J. Pitman in late April 1912. GGA Image ID # 1702d14210

Charles Herbert Lightoller

Charles Herbert Lightoller, second officer of the Titanic, said he understood the maximum speed of the Titanic, as shown by its trial tests, to have been 22 ½ to 28 knots.

Senator Smith asked if the rule requiring lifesaving apparatus to be in each room for each passenger was complied with. “Everything was complete,” said Lightoller. During the tests, he said, Capt. Clark of the British Board of Trade was aboard the Titanic to inspect its life saving equipment.

“How thorough are these captains of the Board of Trade in inspecting ships?” asked Senator Smith.

“Capt. Clark is so thorough that we called him a nuisance.” Lightoller said he was in the sea with a life belt on one hour and a half after the Titanic sank. When it sank he was in the officers’ quarters and all but one of the life boats were gone. This one was caught in the tackle and they were trying to free it.

Lightoller said that on Sunday he saw a message from “some ship” about an iceberg ahead. He did not know the Amerika sent the message, he testified. The ship was making about 21 to 21 ½ knots, the weather was clear and fair, and no anxiety about ice was felt, so no extra lookouts were put on.

“When Capt. Smith came on the bridge at five minutes of 9, what was said?”

“We talked together generally for twenty or twenty five minutes about when we might expect to get to the ice fields. He left the bridge, I think, about twenty five minutes after 9 o'clock, and during our talk he told me to keep the ship on its course, but that if I was the slightest degree doubtful as conditions developed to let him know at once.”

“What time did you leave the bridge?”

“I turned over the watch to First Officer Murdoch at 10 o’clock. We talked about the ice that we had heard was afloat, and I remember we agreed we should reach the reported longitude of the ice floes about 11 o'clock, an hour later. At that time, the weather was calm and clear. I remember we talked about the distance we could see. We could see stars in the horizon. It was very clear.”

Lightoller testified that the Titanic's decks were absolutely intact when it went down. The last order he heard the captain give was to lower the boats. The last boat, a flat collapsible, to put off was the one on top the officers' quarters. Men jumped upon it on deck and waited for the water to float it off. Once at sea it upset. The forward funnel fell into the water, just missing the raft, and overturning it. The funnel probably killed persons in the water.

“This was the boat I eventually got on. No one was on it when I reached it. Later about thirty men clambered out of the water on to it. All had on life preservers.”

“Did any passengers get on?” asked Senator Smith.

“J. B. Thayer, Col. Gracie and the second Marconi operator were among them. All the rest taken out of the water were firemen. Two of these died that night and slipped off into the water. I think the senior Marconi operator was one of the three. We took on board all we could and there were no others in the water near at hand.

When Lightoller left he saw no women or children on board, though there were a number of passengers on the boat deck. The passengers were selected to fill the boats by sex, Lightoller himself putting on all the women he saw, except the stewardesses. He saw some women refuse to go.

In the first boat to be put off Lightoller said he put twenty to twenty-five. Two seamen were placed in it. The officer said he could spare no more, and that the fact that women rowed did not show the boat was not fully equipped.

At that time he did not believe the danger was great. Two seamen placed in the boat, he said, were selected by him, but he could not recall who they were. He said he named them because they were standing near. The second boat carried thirty passengers, with two men.

“By the time I came to the third boat I began to realize that the situation was serious, and I began to take chances. I filled it up as full as I dared, sir—about thirty-five, I think.”

In loading the fourth lifeboat, Lightoller said he was running short of seamen. “I put two seamen in, and one jumped out. That was the first boat I had to put a man passenger in. He was standing nearby and said he would go if I needed him. “I said, ‘Are you a sailor?’ and he replied that he was a yachtsman.

Then I told him that if he was sailor enough to get out over the bulwarks to the lifeboat, to go ahead. He did, and proved himself afterward to be a brave man. I didn't know him then, but afterward I looked him up. He was Maj. Peuchen of Toronto.”

Of the fifth boat Lightoller had no particular recollection. “The last boat I put out, my sixth boat,” he said, “we had difficulty finding women. I called for women and none were on deck. The men began to get in— and then women appeared. As rapidly as they did, the men passengers got out of the boat again.”

“The boat's deck was only ten feet from the water when I lowered the sixth boat. When we lowered the first the distance to the water was seventy feet.” All told, Lightoller testified, 210 members of the crew were saved.

“If the same course was pursued on the starboard side as you pursued on the port in filling boats, how do you account for so many members of the crew being saved?” asked Chairman Smith.
“I have inquired especially and have found that for every six persons picked up five were either firemen or stewards.”

Some lifeboats, the witness said, went back after the Titanic sank and picked up men from the sea.

Lightoller said he stood on top of the officers’ quarters and as the ship dived he faced forward and dived also. “I was sucked against a blower and held there. A terrific gust came up the blower—the boilers must have exploded—and I was blown clear—barely clear. I was sucked down again, this time on the ‘Fidley' grating.” Col. Gracie's experience was similar.

Lightoller did not know how he got loose, perhaps another explosion. He came up by a boat, on which he clambered.

Thomas Herbert Russell, A.M., LL.D., Editor, "Chapter XXIX U.S. Senators Obtain Facts of Wreck: Testimony of Second Officer," in Wreck of the Titanic: World's Greatest Sea Disaster, Chicago: L. H. Walter, 1912, pp. 257-262.

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