Titanic Survivors – Eyewitnesses to History The Only Officer: Charles Lightoller | Guest Post by Sharyn Kopf

ByTheLightofTheSilveryMoonSI’m excited that so many are enjoying the characters in my novel By the Light of the Silvery Moon. Want to know more about the REAL people on the Titanic? My friend Sharyn has been kind enough to write some profiles for us. They are amazing and interesting . . . enjoy!

Second officer Charles Lightoller holds the distinction of being the only high-ranking officer to survive the sinking of the Titanic. Considered a hero by many, the Commander kept approximately 30 men alive by helping them remain balanced on an overturned collapsible boat for more than four hours.

A no-nonsense seaman, Lightoller had a more amusing reason for sharing his story. In his book’s acknowledgement he wrote, “Dedicated to my persistent wife who made me do it.” Walter Lord, author of A Night to Remember, wrote that Lightoller’s account, Titanic and Other Ships,* “mirrors his fine mixture of humor and bravery.”

Just the facts

Lightoller provides an officer’s viewpoint into the appointments of the crew, the lay of the ship, details about the ice and conditions of the sea, and the protocol he and his fellow officers were expected to follow. In addition, he presented strong opinions about several controversies.

As an overall analysis of why the tragedy happened in the first place, Lightoller wrote, “The disaster was just due to a combination of circumstances that never occurred before and can never occur again. That may sound like a sweeping statement, yet it is a fact.”

Throughout his book, Lightoller makes a point of diffusing many of the accusations against the Titanic and the men who worked so hard to keep her afloat and save lives. Early on, he defends Captain E. J. Smith, whom he depicts as “a great favorite, and a man any officer would give his ears to sail under.” In describing his testimony before the Board of Trade in London, Lightoller acknowledged it was “very necessary to keep one’s hand on the whitewash brush” and that “a washing of dirty linen would help no one.”

Of course, one of the downsides of eyewitness accounts is they often disagree on the details and the Titanic disaster is no different. From the rumor that at least one man escaped by dressing as a woman, to whether the vessel split in two, to the endless debate regarding what song the band played right before the ship took its final plunge — or even if they were playing at all in those last moments — it can be hard to find a consensus. And unless new evidence comes to light, readers are left to wonder about many of these particulars. Fortunately, by reading the memoirs of survivors we can enjoy some of the more personal and intimate stories.

Eyewitness to love

In his book, Lightoller shares a poignant encounter with elderly first-class passengers Isidor and Ida Strauss, who both died in the sinking. Not long after Titanic struck the iceberg, Lightoller spied the couple leaning against the deck house “chatting quite cheerily.”

He continued, “I stopped and asked Mrs. Strauss, ‘Can I take you along to the boats?’ She replied, ‘I think I’ll stay here for the present.’ Mr. Strauss, calling her by her Christian name, said, smilingly, ‘Why don’t you go along with him, dear?’ She just smiled, and said, ‘No, not yet.’ I left them, and they went down together.”

What really happened to the 2,200 people onboard the Titanic that night? Thanks to eyewitness accounts, we can read many of their stories . . . but there’s still much we will never know. As Walter Lord, author of A Night to Remember**, wrote, “It is a rash man indeed who would set himself up as a final arbiter on all that happened the incredible night the Titanic went down.”

* Lightoller, Commander (Charles). “Titanic.” 1935. The Story of the S.S. Titanic: As Told by Its Survivors. Ed. Jack Winocour. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1960. 271-308.
** Lord, Walter. A Night to Remember. Bantam Books, 1955.


Sharyn Kopf writes and edits from her home near Dayton, Ohio. She specializes in scriptwriting, ghostwriting, obsessively editing just about anything including, most recently, a 400-page manuscript for publication, and, of course, voraciously reading and watching anything she can find about the Titanic disaster. In her spare time, Sharyn plays show tunes on the piano, performs in community theatre productions, dotes on her nieces and nephew, explores the world of online dating because she’s too romantic to give up hope, and dreams of publishing her historical romance novel. You can contact her at shari2t17@gmail.com.

Want more about the Titanic? Check out my new book: By the Light of the Silvery Moon

Amelia Gladstone’s hopes are tied up in the Titanic–hopes for a reunion with her sister and an introduction to an admirer. But when she offers a spare ticket to a down-and-out young man, her fate is about to change.

Quentin Walpole is stunned when a sweet lady secures his passage to America–and even more surprised to find his wealthy father and older brother on board the ship. Suddenly Amelia finds herself caught between the attentions of two men, but who should she entrust her heart to? As the fateful night arrives, will Amelia lose everything to the icy waters?

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