Charles Lightoller, Second Officer of RMS Titanic was Also a Hero on the Beaches of Dunkirk
Charles Lightoller, Second Officer of RMS Titanic was Also a Hero on the Beaches of Dunkirk

Charles Lightoller, Second Officer of RMS Titanic was Also a Hero on the Beaches of Dunkirk

Larry Holzwarth - November 7, 2019

Charles Lightoller, Second Officer of RMS Titanic was Also a Hero on the Beaches of Dunkirk
The Great Smog of London in 1952 led to thousands of deaths in the city. NT Snobbs via Wikimedia

24. The Great Smog of London

In December 1952 an extraordinary weather event occurred which caused London to be covered for a four-day period in a blanket of heavily polluted air, most of which was smoke and particles released from burning coal. The smog covering London was the result of abnormally cold temperatures, which kept the pollutants nearer to the ground, coupled with an absence of any breeze for several days. The cold weather also caused residents of London to burn more coal for heat than was usual for the period. Londoners – all residents of Great Britain who relied on coal – usually burned cheaper coal which had a higher sulfur content, worsening the smog.

During the four-day Great Smog, more than 100,000 Londoners were made ill with various respiratory disorders, many of them the elderly. Those already suffering from respiratory and heart conditions found their symptoms much worse. At least four thousand deaths were attributed to the Great Smog, most of them from heart conditions or lung disease. One of them was Charles Lightoller, who had suffered from chronic heart disease. He died on December 8, 1952, at the age of 78.

Charles Lightoller, Second Officer of RMS Titanic was Also a Hero on the Beaches of Dunkirk
The officers of RMS Titanic in April, 1912. Wikimedia

25. Lightoller’s remarkable life is only partially known

Charles Lightoller has been portrayed in films many times, nearly all of them centering on the night in 1912 when Titanic sank. Kenneth More played him in A Night to Remember in 1957, Jonathan Phillips in James Cameron’s Titanic four decades later. His role in the evacuation of Dunkirk was fictionalized (as Mr. Dawson) in 2017 when the character was played by Mark Rylance in the film Dunkirk. His service in the Royal Navy during World War I has seldom been presented, and the rest of his life is often ignored entirely, including his time spent in the Canadian Yukon and when shipwrecked for eight days in the Indian Ocean.

Following the loss of Titanic, he was briefly famous, and in a newspaper article he penned for the Christian Science Journal he attributed his survival of the disaster as “With God, all things are possible”. In his memoirs, he described another period of his life, the time spent in the Yukon prospecting, and then traveling across Canada by hopping trains, a bit more pithily. “I’d tried it out, I’d had a great time, and I’d got back…Admittedly I’d gone broke; on the other hand, I had got back”.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Titanic and Other Ships”. Charles Herbert Lightoller. 2003 Edition, Project Gutenberg Australia. Online

“The Second Officer Who Survived Titanic and Saved 130 Lives at Dunkirk”. History Channel Online

“Shipping Reports”. Sidney Morning Herald. October 9, 1900. Online

“A Night to Remember”. Walter Lord. 2005

“Titanic: Minute by Minute”. Jonathan Mayo. 2016

“Titanic: Why was lifeboat not full?” Belfast Telegraph Online. April 23, 2012

“Five Titanic Myths Spread By Films”. Rosie Waites, BBC News. April 5, 2012

“It is difficult to tell of the experience…” Charles Lightoller, Christian Science Journal. October, 1912

“Testimony of Charles Lightoller”. British Wreck Commissioners Inquiry, Day 11. 1912. Online

“White Star Line (Oceanic Steam Navigation Company)”. Duncan Haws. 1990

“The First Destroyers”. David Lyon. 2006

“How WWI’s U-Boats Launched the Age of Unrestricted Warfare”. Jordan Golson, Wired. September 22, 2014

“Fips: Legendary German U-Boat Commander”. Geoffrey Brooks. 1999

“Sundowner”. Article, Association of Dunkirk Little Ships. Online

“Pillar of Fire: Dunkirk 1940”. Ronald Atkin. 2000

“Ashcroft, Gerald Edward (Oral History)”. Gerald Ashcroft, Imperial War Museum (UK). Online

“Mr. Lightoller Goes to Dunkirk”. Martyn Day, St. Margarets, London. August 13, 2017. Online

“Extraordinary story of Titanic’s second officer Charles Herbert Lightroller”. Article, Irish Central Online

History Collection – Haunting Photographs and Quotes from Titanic Survivors

National Archives – They Said It Couldn’t Sink

Our Warwickshire – The Ss Suevic And The Aftermath Of Its Accident

RNLI Lifeboats – 1907: The Suevic Rescue

ThoughtCo – A Timeline of the Sinking of the Titanic

History Channel – Why Did the Titanic Sink?

The Guardian – Key That Could Have Saved The Titanic Goes Up For Auction