Second Officer Lightoller's Faith:
A Christian Scientist
Second officer Herbert Lightoller was a Christian Scientist, for at least part of his life, notably between 1912 and the 1920s. Later, when he wrote his autobiography in 1935, there is no obvious mention of his faith, although he revisits the moment all the survivors on collapsible B prayed the "Our Father" during his 1936 BBC broadcast when he said: "I've heard that prayer ever since I was a child, but never with such intense earnestness, as the surroundings lent to it that night."
Christian Science is a religion based on the 1875 book "Science and Health" by Mary Baker Eddy, who later created a church in 1879, in Boston, Massachusetts. Eddy described Christian Science as a return to "primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing" and is mostly known for its controversial practice of spiritual healing in which disease can be cured by prayer, or the "science of metaphysical healing".
Shortly after his marriage to Sylvia Hawley-Wilson in Sydney in 1903 (they were married in St James' Church) Lightoller first came in contact with the Christian Scientists when a leaflet was stashed in his pocket on the streets of New York, which later led him to take up the study of Christian Science.
How active or deep Lightoller was involved in the religion is not known, but he ended up writing four articles for their magazine Christian Science Sentinel, to the extent of becoming a British political correspondent for the weekly newspaper The Christian Science Monitor in the 1920s.
His first known article in the Christian Science Sentinel was in October 1912 ("Testimonies From the Field", Christian Science Journal, XXX (7): 414–5) crediting his faith in a divine power for his survival of the Titanic disaster, concluding: "with God all things are possible".
Testimonies from the Field, By C. H. Lightoller (October 1912)
It is difficult to tell from the experience which follows, but the student of the Christian Science will readily see in it that acceptance of the truth made the overcoming of fear possible, even as in the case if disease, and that divine Principle is to be relied upon at all times.
While the Titanic was sinking, and during the whole time I was working at the boats, I held to the truth, thereby eliminating all fear. I do not pretend that any man can go down on a ship at midnight, in mid-Atlantic, and succeed in eliminating fear, without hard work. It was hard work, and yet the very conditions which existed on the port side were in themselves a demonstration of the workings of Truth, for not the slightest hitch occurred, and all the boats were got away, the last one, which was a flat-bottomed collapsible, floating off the deck. Now it is proverbial that the last thing a sailor will think of is a life-belt; certainly no thought had entered my head of my own life-belt, and I was far too busy at the boats to leave them, even had I thought of it. And this is how I came to obtain my belt.
Murdoch had been appointed chief, I was first and Blair was second officer; in that rank we had joined the Titanic in Belfast. Shortly before we sailed from Southampton, Wilde, who was formerly chief of the Olympic, and who was to have been given command of another of the White Star steamers, which, owing to the coal strike and other reasons was laid up, was sent for the time being to the Titanic as chief, Murdoch ranking back to first, myself to second, and Blair standing out for the voyage. Now it will be seen why it was that Wilde, on wanting some articles which were received by the first officer in Belfast, came to me. I took him into the first officer's room and showed him where they were, and was on my way back on deck again when I heard Wilde say,
'I am going to put on my life-belt.' At that precise moment I was passing my own room door, facing which is a wardrobe, and on the top of this was my own life-belt. On hearing Wilde's remark, I instinctively looked into the room, reached for the belt, and put it on.
I now resumed my work at the boats, finally calling for men to follow me up to the top of the officers' quarters to cut adrift the last boat, which was stowed there. This boat we had not time even to open up, so just hove her down to the deck from which we had launched the others. As I saw her slide over the edge of the quarters I turned and ran across the deck to the other side of the ship to see if anything further could be done. Looking down I could see that all material work was finished, so from where I was on top of the quarters and above the bridge, I faced forward and walked into the water. The sudden immersion in this penetratingly cold water for a few seconds overcame all thought, and I struck out blindly for the crow's-nest which is on the foremast and was at that time just above the water. In a couple of seconds I realised that the cow's-nest and all other material help was of the same value, and almost immediately I found myself drawn with great force against the grating covering the mouth of the forward blower, a huge ventilator leading down to the forward stokehold. In this position I went below the surface with the ship.
I want to emphasise strongly this point, that as soon as I collected my thoughts after taking to the water, I remember saying to myself, 'Now, I'll see how much I have learned from Christian Science.' A doubt never entered my mind as to the possibility of my surviving; in other words, of the ability of the divine power to save me. I think I can conscientiously say that with this thought all fear left me, and I commenced again to realise the truth of being. It was at this moment that I was drawn into the water, still realising the truth, and while I was below the surface these words from the 91st Psalm came to me so distinctly that I seemed to realise their full import: 'He shall give his angels charge over thee.' Immediately, I think, I was thrown away from the blower, and came up to find a piece of wood in my hand which seemed to be attached to the top of the funnel by a wire.
I remained still, while the water rushed past me carrying the people with it away from me. A second time I went down, still holding fast to the truth, and again came to the surface.
My piece of wood was gone, but alongside me was the flat-bottomed collapsible boat which I had thrown down on the other side of the ship. This I laid hold of, but made no attempt to board it.
I want it to be understood that during this time in the water the fact came calmly and clearly that there was a divine power which could be utilised in a practical manner, and also it seemed perfectly natural to rely on this power with the spiritual understanding which is so often spoke of in the Bible, and which is explained in 'Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures' by Mrs. Eddy. Now, the sinking of a great ship like the Titanic, there was also the fear of suction to overcome, and at this time the forward funnel fell, throwing the boat, myself, and other survivors about twenty feet clear of the ship, so that of suction we felt nothing.
About thirty of us floated the remainder of the night on the upturned boat, and I could not overcome the intense cold experienced, yet when a man handed me a bottle of something that smelt somewhat like essence of peppermint, the thought of material means was nothing short of repulsive, and needless to say, it was not taken. At daybreak we found two lifeboats floating near by, into which we were taken. I was the last member of the Titanic to board the Carpathia, and after interviewing her Captain, discarded my wet clothes in favour of a bunk, in which remained for about half an hour, and was not in bunk or bed again till we arrived in New York. Reaction or effects from the immersion - which I was confidently assured would take place - there were none; and though surprise had been expressed by very many, it only goes to prove that 'with God all things are possible.'
There was another Christian Scientist aboard Titanic - second class passenger Lawrence Beesley, who wrote in his book, "The Loss of the SS Titanic", that he had corresponded with Lightoller after the disaster, although it is unknown whether they knew of their same faith.
Lightoller subsequently served during the First World War as an officer and in 1917 wrote another article in which he describes his struggle as the only officer not drinking or smoking:
I should like to give this testimony to the healing power...
By C. H. Lightoller
From the September 8, 1917 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel
I should like to give this testimony to the healing power of Truth. I was appointed to a ship which commissioned and was attached to the grand fleet. We had a large number of officers in the ward room, but I was the only Christian Scientist. The fact that I did not smoke or drink seemed to leave me as one apart, and as time went on this gap between myself and others grew to such an extent that the time came when I had not a friend in the ship—no one even to join, in the rare opportunities we had, for walks on shore. This experience on board a ship was totally new, for I had always been "hail fellow, well met," with those above and below me. It seemed as though the whole question resolved itself into whether I would just concede one point, for if I did I could at once regain their friendship. If I would only accept the invitation to "come and shake for a drink," or join in the not altogether classical yarns around the smoke room fire,—or concede just any one point,—I should find the barrier immediately broken down.
Many and many a time have I quietly taken myself off to my cabin, and how I have striven and prayed for help and strength—week after week and month after month, till at last I became once again "one of the boys," but this time on God's terms. I can hardly trace the gradual answering to Truth, but slowly and surely the change was wrought, until three times I sent by request for a copy of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mrs. Eddy, which with my own made four copies of the textbook which were being read in the ship. My companions for walks and sails were only limited by the capacity of the boat. My only help through that trying time was the understanding of God as taught in the Bible and explained in the textbook of Christian Science.
My gratitude for this experience and for the understanding of God and man that has been placed within my reach by Mrs. Eddy's teachings is deep and sincere, for I was able to prove conclusively that "one on God's side is a majority."—Lieut. C. H. Lightoller, London, England.