Way Back Charles Lightoller Survived The Titanic – Then Became A WWI AND WWII Hero Published 7 months ago on Jul 16, 2018 By Monica Huntington Charles Lightoller never expected to survive the Titanic, let alone risk his life to become an admirable hero aboard the famous sinking ocean liner. Undeterred by one of the greatest maritime catastrophes of the 20th century, he amazingly went on to accomplish incredible feats during both World War I and II. Time and again, the fearless sailor stood in the way of harm to serve a greater cause in more than one of history’s biggest events. Don’t miss this remarkable story of just how the indestructible Charles Lightoller survived the perils of multiple shipwrecks, wars and other calamities, all the while saving scores of lives along the way. 1. A Hero Is Born Even at a young age, Charles Herbert Lightoller stood apart from those around him. At just 13 years old, he already had to face the prospects of his future. Born in Lancashire in 1874, England, Lightoller knew he didn’t want to end up in a factory like the majority of his fellow British youth. Instead, he would pursue a much more adventurous path. Quora That same year, the brave boy went to sea for the first time during his apprenticeship in seamanship. Only a few years later at the age of 15, he would experience his first shipwreck when a fierce storm ravaged the ship he was working on in the Indian Ocean. This wouldn’t be his last time, though. 2. Sprightly Sea Legs During Charles Lightoller’s early maritime career, he encountered more adventures and misadventures on the high seas than most people would in a lifetime. His coming years working on ships took him to the furthest edges of the world, reaching ports of call in the likes of India, Australia and Brazil. Wikipedia Lightoller and his fellow crew members endured tropical diseases and cyclones during their harrowing journeys. He faced one hazard after another all the while climbing the ranks and gathering valuable experience. All these experiences would surely come in handy later in life, when he’d find himself in the midst of some of the most deadly events in history. 3. Experienced Sailor By 1895, Charles Lightoller was just 21, but he was already an experienced seagoer. His hard work and dedication had not gone unnoticed either, as he constantly rose to the occasion and performed above and beyond the call of duty. At one point, he even helped save his fellow crewmen and ship with his successful efforts in extinguishing a ship fire. stagebarn.com Lightoller continued to prove that he was an adept sailor, and yet another promotion saw him leave the world of sailing ships for steamships. After three years of service off the coast of West Africa, a bout of malaria nearly killed him. Shortly thereafter, he traveled across the Atlantic but in pursuit of something completely unexpected. 4. Adventures Off The High Seas As the end of the 1800s neared, Charles Lightoller made a surprising career move and abandoned his quickly-advancing maritime career for something nonetheless adventurous. Seeking dry land, he made his way to North America, where he would take part in the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon. goldbottom.com Unfortunately, his prospects of finding gold fell short and like many others, he disappointingly left the northern country empty-handed. It wasn’t long, however, until he was engaged in a new, exciting undertaking as a cowboy in Canada. His horsebacked herding exploits were also short-lived, though, as the sea beckoned him back and he couldn’t resist returning to his true calling. 5. Cowboys And Crow’s Nests Leaving behind North America, the ever-resourceful Charles Lightoller worked his way back to England. Once home, though, he once again found himself penniless. Having already survived worse things during his younger years, Lightoller hadn’t forgotten his nautical expertise and was able to find some jobs aboard ships before he would take up a respected position. Little did he know that this position would lead him to disaster. Daily Main In 1900, Lightoller was hired by the legendary British shipping company, the White Star Line. Lightoller thought he had secured his future by joining the prominent fleet, but at that point, he had no idea just how his new career path would forever change the course of his life. 6. A Maiden’s Voyage The White Star Line’s ships ran between Britain, Australia and North America. It was during one voyage Down Under in 1903 that the 26-year-old Charles Lightoller happened to meet a beautiful young Australian woman named, Sylvia. Not wanting to live another day without her, they married and returned to England together. The Mirror Charles and Sylvia Lightoller settled into married life and started having children, but his duties at sea would often call him away from his home and family. Lightoller’s place in history would soon be sealed when he yet again set sail for America and found himself in the middle of one of the most legendary maritime disasters of the 20th century. 7. Aboard The Titanic When the White Star Line’s most famous ocean liner the RMS Titanic, set sail from England for New York in 1912, Charles Lightoller was on board. He was by far a seasoned veteran when at age 38, he served as the second officer to Captain Edward J. Smith on the ill-fated passenger liner. Irish America Magazine After completing his last watch of the night, Lightoller had already retired to his cabin and was in bed when he felt a sudden shudder run through the ship on the doomed night of April 14, 1912. Wearing just his pajamas, the dutiful officer jumped from his bed and ran out on deck unsure of what he’d find. 8. Icebergs In The Atlantic When Lightoller went outside to investigate the tremor, he didn’t see anything unusual. So he decided to return to his cabin where he could be easily found if needed. Lightoller stayed awake and alert in his bed until around midnight, when another officer summoned him and informed him of the bad news. williammurdoch.net Lightoller’s colleague informed him that the Titanic had hit an iceberg. Not wanting to waste precious time, Lightoller pulled his officer’s uniform over his pajamas and proceed with haste to the deck. He was briefed on the dire situation and although the Titanic was thought to be “unsinkable,” he quickly undertook a display of great diligence and rapid thinking. 9. Cautious Crewman Although Charles Lightoller was pretty confident that the Titanic wouldn’t sink, he decided it was better to take the necessary precautions and sprang into action. The Titanic was notorious unprepared for such a disaster, yet Lightoller sprang into action and stayed calm as worried passengers poured outside into the cold night. Pinterest Lightoller kept his composure and took command of the situation, helping worried passengers into lifeboats. Per instructions, he ordered women and children into the lifeboats first. As the situation grew all the more alarming, he directed his crew to maintain order and try to prevent hysteria. But that wasn’t all. 10. Race Against The Clock As the freezing ocean water quickly flooded the ship, panic grew. Still, Lightoller tried to ease the nerves of the frightened passengers by keeping a calm exterior, all the while quickly trying to herd as many people as possible into lifeboats. Throughout the whole ordeal, he tried to reassure them that it was just a “matter of precaution” and that “they were perfectly safe, as there was a ship not more than a few miles away.” Pinterest Even as matters became more frenzied, he took the instruction of evacuating women and children to heart. At one point, he even refused to let millionaire John Jacob Astor join his wife on a lifeboat until all the women were evacuated. Keeping a clear head amid the crisis, he painstakingly worked to lower several of the ships’ 20 lifeboats, but it was soon clear the legendary ocean liner was going under. 11. The Last Minute All throughout the terrifying two hours and forty minutes that it took for the Titanic to sink, Charles Lightoller was a dutiful officer and refused to abandon ship. He stayed aboard as long as he could, working up until the very last minute to send off one last lifeboat. But ultimately, he was forced to bid farewell to his fellow officers, unsure of what any of their fates would be. Wikipedia As the Titanic descended into its final plunge, Lightoller dove from the bridge into the frigid water. He swam with all his might but he was pulled underwater by the suction from the enormous sinking ship. He discarded a heavy revolver in his possession as he struggled to find the surface, but he wouldn’t be able to hold his breath much longer. 12. Superhuman Strength Just as it seemed that Charles Lightoller was going down with the Titanic, a blast of warm water pushed him to the surface and he miraculously emerged alive! Exhausted, soaked, and freezing, Lightoller eventually managed to reach an overturned lifeboat floating nearby. Wikipedia As he climbed atop the overturned lifeboat, Lightoller helped about 30 other Titanic survivors board the small boat. His incredible leadership got the lifeboat through the night until its passengers were finally rescued by the RMS Carpathia. Amazingly, Lightoller was the last Titanic survivor and highest ranking Titanic officer taken aboard. Despite all that he’d been through, however, his adventures at sea were far from over. 13. Called Back To Sea To the astonishment of many, Charles Lightoller had defended the White Star Line during the various inquiries into the tragic sinking of the Titanic. Trying not to let the trauma get to him, the heroic sailor even went back to work for the shipping company until another one of history’s biggest events erupted. lancastria.com As the outbreak of World War I swept Europe, Charles Lightoller was called for duty in Britain’s Royal Navy. Although he had already experienced one of the world’s most harrowing shipwrecks, Lightoller dutifully took his post aboard a warship not knowing that he would soon again face a maritime catastrophe. 14. Loyal Service As a Navy officer, Charles Lightoller first served aboard the HMS Oceanic until it was wrecked in 1914 on the jagged reef-surrounded Shaalds of Foula in Scotland’s Shetland archipelago. Again not daunted by the hazards of life at sea, Lightoller went on to serve on several other warships, including two that he commanded. Wikipedia It seems that the seas just wouldn’t give Lightoller a break, and in 1918 he again survived as the captain of the HMS Falcon when the C-class torpedo boat destroyer sank after colliding in the fog with another ship. He miraculously was back on his feet in no time, and his bravery wouldn’t waver, as he’d soon do something that would again distinguish him as a hero. 15. Heroic Navy Commander Having endured not only the sinking of the Titanic and the shipwrecks of two of the Navy ships he served on during World War I, Charles Lightoller proved time and time again that he willing to put his life in jeopardy for the sake of others. submarinewarfare.uk Toward the end of his service in World War I, Lightoller was an experienced commander when the Navy put him in charge of the destroyer ship the HMS Garry. The ship would claim its place in history for sinking a German U-Boat. Lightoller’s overwhelming achievements wouldn’t go unnoticed, however, as he earned one of the country’s most prestigious ranks. 16. Saluted By Britain For his courageous and valuable wartime efforts, Britain decorated Charles Lightoller. The Navy awarded the Titanic-hero-turned-war-hero two medals of distinction for his actions in combat. Having incredibly survived such turbulent events, Lightoller retired from the Navy in 1919 with the honorable rank of Commander. Wikipédia Lightoller had emerged from the war a distinguished hero, and after all that he had overcome, one might think he would be in desperate need of some well-deserved R&R. But, that wasn’t the case. Following his eventful service in World War I, he’d go on to seek work once again. Unfortunately, though, he didn’t expect the disappointing reality that lay ahead. 17. Dedicated Family Man Now that Charles Lightoller was discharged from the Navy, he still wanted to work. He and his wife, Sylvia, had five children over the years and he still had to provide for his family. Not only that, but Lightoller preferred to spend the coming years in the profession that he loved and excelled at. Pinterest Despite his 20 years of service on the sea, however, the Navy commander found it was hard to find a job. Opportunities for advancement within the White Star Line that he had faithfully served weren’t available any longer. Frustratingly, he would discover that jobs were scarce for an unbelievable reason. 18. Inescapable Black Mark Much to his dismay, Lightoller found that surviving crew members of the Titanic had been stigmatized within the industry and could not escape from the superstitious beliefs that were held against them. Lightoller was disillusioned by the lack of prospects, but still, he wouldn’t give up and would soon go on to achieve another astonishing feat. stagebarn_com As Lightoller left behind his dreams of returning to the White Star Line, he had no idea of the great contributions he had yet to achieve for the world. The hard-working seafarer went on to work a handful of odd jobs, including as an innkeeper, a chicken farmer, and at one point, as a property speculator. But that wasn’t all! 19. Anchors Away The travails and triumphs of Charles Lightoller may seem like the stuff that movies are made of. Therefore, it’s only fitting that in the 1930s he detailed the account of his eventful life in his autobiography, Titanic and Other Ships. The book was a success, but the man who had time and time again stayed afloat, couldn’t leave the sea behind for good. Dunkirk1940.com So Charles Lightoller and his wife, Sylvia, bought a boat of their own and named it Sundowner. Finally able to relax a little, the retired couple spent the next decade sailing around northern Europe. Little did they know at first, but the unassuming couple would eventually be summoned by the government for a top-secret mission. 20. Sailing Spies As the winds of war once again gathered over Europe, the Navy recruited the retired seafaring veteran and his wife in 1939 to carry out classified missions under the clever guise of elderly vacationers. To serve their country’s need yet again, the Lightollers would conduct reconnaissance missions along the German coastline. CageyFilms.com The pair would try to gather any information that could be useful against the enemy. Just before war was about to break out, the couple safely made it back to their home in England. While Charles Lightoller spent the first year of World War II on his farm, the conflict continued to escalate and he made the valiant decision to rise from retirement yet again. 21. The Dunkirk Dilemma By 1940, Nazi Germany had invaded France and pushed back the Allied troops to a precarious position, trapping the soldiers between the advancing German forces and the sea on the beaches of Dunkirk. Neither the French nor the British armies could stop the blitz and it seemed France was about to fall, and with it, the entire Western Front in Europe. People.com With the fate of some 330,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers hanging in the balance, the British leadership under Winston Churchill came up with a daring plan to extract the troops and salvage the Allied cause. That’s when Charles Lightoller received an unexpected call. 22. Summoned For The Cause Charles Lightoller was 66-years-old when he received the call that civilian boats were needed to help with the evacuation of Dunkirk. The government was demanding the use of the private vessels to cross the English Channel for the risky rescue operation on the shores of France. Quora There were hundreds of thousands of troops who would need to be evacuated and each vessel that could help would count. Given the desperation of what was dubbed Operation Dynamo, Charles Lightoller had been instructed to hand his boat, the Sundowner, over to the control of the government. That being said, he had only one request. 23. From Retirement To Rescuer Given his decades of maritime experience and willing nature to help others, even in the line of danger, Navy Commander Charles Lightoller requested that he take the Sundowner himself for the precarious mission. When the retired hero, who had survived the Titanic sinking and World War I, received the green light, there was no turning back. Dover-Kent.co.uk Together with his eldest son Roger and a teenage Sea Scout named Gerald Ashcroft, Lightoller set out to cross the English Channel. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however, as the Sundowner headed to Dunkirk. On the way, the 58-foot-long motor yacht encountered a motor cruiser that had caught fire and rescued the crew. Afterward, the Sundowner carried on, continuing toward the dangerous shores of Dunkirk. 24. The Evacuation Of Dunkirk Upon arrival at Dunkirk, Lightoller and his small crew aboard the Sundowner started to rally stranded troops onto its deck. The boat was only licensed to carry 21 passengers, but as the evacuating soldiers from Dunkirk filed aboard, it was clear that the small boat was carrying a load way over its capacity. Daily Mail In fact, 75 men packed into the cabin of Lightoller’s relatively small boat, while another 55 sought refuge on deck. Still, Lightoller wanted to take as many men as possible and so with a total of 130 troops, they set off for the perilous return to England. However, heavy enemy fire would make their chances of survival slim. 25. Dodging An Onslaught As Charles Lightoller navigated the Sundowner back across the English Channel, German planes littered the way with bombs. For the sake of his life and that of his passengers, he had to expertly maneuver his boat to dodge German bombs along the way. But that wasn’t the only danger for the small boat trying to transport the troops to safety. The wake from larger, fast-moving ships posed the greatest threat. PassageMaker Much to everyone’s relief, however, the Sundowner eventually arrived to safety in England. As the rescued troops disembarked, Lightoller came under a shower of praise. Again, he had selflessly worked to save numerous lives, but incredibly he wasn’t ready to drop anchor for good. 26. No Moment To Rest Right after his first successful trip from Dunkirk, Lightoller was already planning to return to Dunkirk for another rescue trip. As he geared up and made the necessary preparations to carry another round of Allied soldiers to safety, he received disheartening news. Cagey Films Despite his eagerness to return for another load of troops from the Dunkirk evacuation, Lightoller received and update that his boat, the Sundowner, wouldn’t be permitted to return to the front in France. At that point in the operation, only ships that were able to travel at a speed of 20 knots were allowed to return. But his contributions didn’t end there. 27. A Lasting Legacy Thanks to the fearless efforts of Charles Lightoller in yet another one of the most pivotal events in history, his boat the Sundowner was hailed one of the legendary “Little Ships of Dunkirk” – the fleet of 850 private boats that sailed from England to France and helped rescue more than 330,000 soldiers trapped at Dunkirk during World War II. Wikipedia Lightoller wasn’t just allowed to take his boat home after Dunkirk, as the Navy commissioned it as a service boat for the remainder of the war. Finally, in 1946, the Sundowner was returned to Lightoller and was once again used as a family boat. After all the upheaval he had experienced throughout his life, Lightoller would spend the rest of his days in an extraordinary way. 28. Heart Forever At Sea After World War II, Charles Lightoller lived a relatively quiet life. Not one to stop moving, he managed a small boatyard in West London that manufactured motor launches for the river police. Having survived the Titanic, World War I and World War II, Lightoller was something of an anomaly. In light of his remarkable accomplishments, he conducted various interviews and was often written about, yet he always stayed humble. historycollection.co After an incredible amount of adventures and courageous demonstrations of heroism in which he saved hundreds of lives, Charles Lightoller passed away in 1952 at the age of 78. Lightoller’s incredible life and actions would not be forgotten, however, and they would serve as inspiration for huge works in the future. 29. The Unsinkable Charles Lightoller Even decades after Charles Lightoller passed away, his memory hasn’t been forgotten. His exceptional life story and personal history inspired the character of Mark Rylance in Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film Dunkirk. But that wasn’t the only theatrical role in which he was portrayed. Movie Nation One of the best-known tributes to the infamous shipwreck of 1912 is James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster Titanic. In the movie, English actor Jonathan Phillips portrayed Lightoller in his position as the 2nd Officer on the ship. Lightoller has been depicted in at least 10 other films, TV shows and theater plays. But it’s not just the showbiz industry that he has inspired. 30. Legacy Of A Legend Although there’s no doubt that the outside world was in awe of Lightoller, his legacy was also felt closer to home. All three of his sons followed in his footsteps and joined the armed forces, and his two daughters served in nursing and intelligence units. His grandson, A.T. Lightoller, also became a commander in the British Navy. Daily Echo Charles Lightoller not only managed to defy death and survive many of the most catastrophic events in history and live to tell the tale; he helped others and undoubtedly saved a multitude of people who otherwise may not have survived the distressing circumstances. May his admirable legacy continue to live on and inspire others just as he has for generations. If you liked this article, don’t’ forget to SHARE it with friends! Sources: The Vintage News, History Collection UP NEXT Gunsmoke: Top Facts Behind The Longest-Lived Show on Television... 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