Second Officer C.H.Lightoller - Legacy & Reliability
The release of the 1958 film A Night to Remember, based on Walter Lord's book of the same name, featuring Second officer Lightoller, played by Kenneth More, in a leading role, seem to seal his place in history as the 'hero' of the Titanic story. According to the Chorley Guardian of Friday 18th of July 1958, who interviewed Sylvia when she visited Chorley, "Sylvia had the opportunity to see the 1958 movie A Night to Remember, for which she was even consulted regarding some of the details about the sinking which she learned from Charles".
Mrs. Lightoller told The Guardian that she was consulted during the making of the film and that although she had met a number of survivors in London, she was practically the only person living who knew the inside story of the disaster.
''The film is really the truth and has not been embroidered, she told The Guardian.
There was only one slight departure from the personal story so far as she was concerned and that was her farewell to her husband before the disaster. ''I am supposed to have called him 'Bertie', she said. ''I never did any such thing and certainly he would have been astounded, had I done so!''
….. She recalled that Cdr. Lightoller was the only officer who went down with the ship. ''The story of his miraculous escape is described faithfully in the film''. she said.
Because of the assistance was giving in the production of the film, Mrs. Lightoller visited Pinewood Studios during the 'shooting' With a twinkle in her eye she told The Guardian that she approved the choice of Kenneth More to portray Cdr. Lightoller, ''He was a smaller man like my husband''. she said.
One day Kenneth More came to her on the set, kissed her and said ''Are you my wife or my mother?'' She told him ''I am your wife'' and pointing to two of her grown-up children, who towered above Kenneth More, ''These are your children''. She also added ''You have nine grandchildren.'' (Chorley Guardian of Friday 18th of July 1958)
Reliability and Errors
An unbiased look at Charles Herbert Lightoller reveals that while his life was indeed full of drama, not all of it was entirely heroic. Take for example the following list:
1. Lightoller was involved in the death of three African boys and a quartermaster while in command of a square-rigged boat that he attempted to bring ashore, at Grand-Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire, circa 1897.
2. 1899 - third mate on a cattle steamer called the Knight Companion, which during a storm he lost all the cattle.
3. 1900 - almost lost his job playing a prank at Fort Denison, Sydney which involved hoisting a Boer flag and firing a cannon.
4. Was elusive and unhelpful when receiving a query from the lookouts Fleet and Symons in Southampton, April 1912, about missing binoculars. The lookouts never received the binoculars and incidentally on the night of the collision Lightoller admits to using binoculars on the bridge to search for ice.
5. On April 14th, 1912, he never addressed a large discrepancy between Sixth Officer Moody's calculation they would reach ice at 11pm and his own calculation it should have been 9.30pm.
6. At the US Inquiry he testified he did not discuss ice ahead with First officer Murdoch taking over his watch at 10pm. This was later retracted when an inconsistency was discovered in his testimony at the British Inquiry in which he said they actually did discuss ice.
7. At the British Inquiry and in his book Lightoller pinpoints the blame on wireless operator Jack Phillips for not sending the Mesaba message to the bridge; however during his last watch he had himself calculated they would reach ice at 9.30pm. The Mesaba message reached Titanic at 9.52pm.
8. Lightoller misinterpreted the "women and children first" order as "women and children only" resulting in fewer numbers in the lifeboats and the deaths of an unknown number of men. He even refused "stewardesses" from entering.
9. Despite having personally tested Titanic's lifeboats both in Belfast and in Southampton, Lightoller erroneously believed the lifeboats could not be fully loaded.
10. At the US Inquiry he admitted he did not realise the situation was urgent until after the third lifeboat was launched.
11. He lowered his first lifeboat no.4 to load from A deck to discover the A deck glass windows were closed and passengers had to be sent back up to the boat deck, delaying the launch of the first lifeboat by half an hour, during which time on the starboard side Murdoch had lowered three lifeboats already.
12. Lightoller ordered the boatswain and 6 men to open the gangway doors on E deck, but never communicated his plan to load from there to the captain and never instructed any of the lifeboats to go there to collect more passengers, assuming they would do so. The boatswain and 6 men were never seen again.
13. Lightoller is never forthright in his exact use of guns during the evacuation- Gracie reports him firing his gun, but in his book Lightoller only admits to 'flourishing his revolver'
14. Lightoller wasted at least ten minutes looking for a plug in collapsible D - the collapsibles did not have plugs, something he should have known as he was involved in testing the lifeboats both in Belfast and in Southampton
15. Collapsible B was launched upside down after being removed from the roof of the officers quarters, while on the starboard side under Murdoch it was at least upright.
16. Lightoller observes First officer Murdoch and Sixth officer Moody on the starboard side struggling to launch collapisble A, but instead of assisting decides to dive into the ocean (at the US Inquiry he inaccurately describes not leaving the ship but the 'ship leaving me'). Both Murdoch and Moody were lost. Why did he not also assist with collapsible A, especially considering that Murdoch had not only launched all of the starboard side boats himself, but had also helped Lightoller launch lifeboat 10? Lightoller left the ship, while the Captain, Chief Officer, First officer and Sixth officers all stayed with the ship until the end and were lost.
17. Lightoller describes talking to wireless operator Jack Phillips about the Mesaba message on the upturned collapsible B, and blaming him for the collision. However only second wireless operator Harold Bride was ever on the upturned collapsible.
18. Lightoller admits that he tried to avoid the US Inquiry by getting all the crew onto the Cedric immediately on their arrival in New York.
19. Lightoller is an unhelpful witness at the US Inquiry which he called a "farce" and is particularly illusive when it came to lifeboat numbers and ice reports
20. Lightoller admits in his book that his involvement in the British Inquiry was as part of a deliberate "whitewash"
21. Lord Mersey of the British Inquiry doubted Lightoller's testimony and stated it was "not at all satisfactory."
22. Lightoller was in command when the HMS Falcon collided with a fishing trawler and sank in 1916. Unusually, it also contained all his household furniture when it sank
23. Lightoller was in command of the HMS Garry when it sank the German U-boat UB-110. The German U-boat captain Fürbringer later reported that the HMS Garry opened fire with revolvers and machine guns on the unarmed crew in the water. He states that he saw the skull of his 18-year old steward split open by a lump of coal hurled by a member of Garry's crew.
24. In his "The Blue Peter" magazine article of June 1936 he mentions being officer on the watch of a bridge of an "Atlantic greyhound" which almost collided with rocks after he mistook the echo of the ship's whistle as another ship (A full transcript of the article can be viewed here)
25. His published book in 1935 contains many inaccuracies, ambiguity and is often inconsistent with his earlier testimony. It resulted in an argument with wireless operator Harold Bride in a 1936 letter to readers section of a newspaper over his depiction of Jack Phillips and the 'fatal' Mesaba wireless message.
26. In 2010 Granddaughter Louise Patten alleges Lightoller said quartermaster Hichens turned the wheel the wrong way in response to the collision, a claim universally dismissed by Titanic historians.
27. In 2012 grand nephew Valentine Palmer claims Lightoller was involved in a conspiracy in which Titanic was 'switched' with her sister ship the Olympic, despite no evidence to prove it and the 'switch' theory universally debunked as a hoax.