Titanic survivor featured in new book

Hero: A photo of Second Officer Charles H Lightoller, circa 1912.
Hero: A photo of Second Officer Charles H Lightoller, circa 1912.

The extraordinary life and career of a Titanic voyager from Chorley is being celebrated by a writer with a mission.

Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller was the most senior surviving officer on the ship, and has fascinated writer Patrick Stenson for years.

In a new edition of Patrick’s book, the former writer and broadcaster claims he has uncovered new evidence regarding the tragedy.

The 65-year-old from Altrincham said: “I was going over the old evidence and I noticed some things that hadn’t been picked out in the inquiry.

“It became quite clear that the ship was on top of the iceberg before the crew realised - it was much, much closer than people thought.”

Patrick believes that when the White Star liner struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on April 14, 1912, the iceberg was more likely to have been around 200 yards away, rather than 450 yards.

On that night, 38-year-old Lightoller from Chorley, known as ‘Lights’ to his fellow seaman, lay asleep in his bunk.

As the catastrophe unfolded, it soon became clear that the vessel was not ‘unsinkable.’

The ship went down, taking 1,500 out of the 2503 passengers with it but ‘Lights’ was quick to do the best he could.

He took charge of the lifeboats on the port side to make sure as many women and children could stand a chance of survival.

When Captain Smith finally announced it was ‘every man for himself’ he jumped into the icy-cold waters of the Atlantic and eventually clambered onto a canvas dingy.

He held on with another 29 survivors until the Carpathia rescued them the next day and later proved a key witness at the Titanic inquiries.

During the inquiry, Lights answered over 1,600 questions defending the captain and the White Star company, but sadly, he felt his sailing career suffered from the association with the Titantic.

But Patrick still believes that Lights is one Chorley’s most important historical figures and should be celebrated.

“Herbert really is a Chorley hero and I think he should be honoured by the town,” he said. “Not just for his bravery when the Titanic sank, but for his whole career.

“When the Titanic was sinking, he was prepared to go down with it and give his life but as fortune had it, he survived. His bravery should never be called into question.”

As Patrick’s book documents, the seaman’s life was a series of amazing episodes, starting with his family who introduced cotton spinning to Chorley.

They owned a now demolished five storey mill on the corner of Standish Street and Lyons Lane, and enjoyed a prosperous business until American Civil War trade slump.

At the age of 13, Lightoller left Chorley to start as an apprentice in sail at Liverpool and was soon at sea.

Over his career he was shipwrecked four times (once on a genuine desert island), survived a fire at sea, a near drowning, and frostbite and starvation while taking part in the Yukon Gold Rush.

In 1940 at the age of 66, he took his motor yacht over to Dunkirk to rescue troops from the beaches, helping to save 130 lives.

Patrick added: “I was drawn to him because he was just such a remarkable character. He was so resilient, not just because he survived the Titanic but because of the other hardships overcame in his life.

“I think he sets a great example to young people today.

“I think my new theory shows that nobody was to blame for the ship sinking. There’s still a lot of Captain Smith bashing today but I think it was down to some mysterious visibility conditions and the lack of wireless messages reaching the bridge.”

Patrick’s book first came out in the 1980s and was called Lights. The new edition has been published to include the new findings.

Lightoller died, aged 78, in December 1952.

Patrick’s 288 page book is now titled ‘The Odyssey of C.H. Lightoller - Titanic Voyager’, and is available for £24.99.