Charles Herbert Lightoller DSC and bar, RD, RNR, was born in Chorley, Lancashire, on 30 March, 1874. For many, he is best remembered as the Second Mate on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. He was also the most senior surviving officer of the Titanic, and as such, most of what we know in relation to the events of that evening (from the view of the crew) is from his testimony given at both the American and British enquiries. Lightoller joined the Titanic in Belfast two weeks before the sinking and acted as First Mate during her sea trials. It was Captain Smith who ultimately ordered the positions of his senior officers and Lightoller then became the Third Mate, David Blair not only was 'bounced' off the crew, but departed with the keys to the cupboard containing the binoculars, in his pocket. This, crucially, has been postulated as one of the possible reasons for the Titanic striking the iceberg and sinking. Lightoller had promised to purchase further binoculars for the ship on arrival in New York.

On the night of April the 14th 1912, it was Lightoller who was in command of the last bridge watch prior to the collision and he had not long been relieved by Murdoch, before returning to his cabin where he felt the impact of the collision. Lightoller was called to the bridge by the Fourth Mate, Joseph Boxhall, and was put in charge of assisting the evacuation of the passengers on the port side boat deck. During this, he religiously re-enforced the Birkenhead Drill and as such only women and children were permitted into the boats. Consequently, some lifeboats were lowered with empty seats due to a lack of available eligible (in Lightoller's interpretation) passengers.

"Charles Lightoller" by Unknown - Le Site du Titanic. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

Sundowner was built in 1912 as an Admiralty steam pinnace; at some point she was abandoned in Conyer Creek, east of the River Medway. It was from here in 1929 that Charles Lightoller purchased her for the sum of £40 and she was fitted with two masts and rigged as a ketch. Originally, Sundowner was 52 feet long (22 feet longer than the required minimum length for the registration of all private boats at the beginning of WW2); however, she was extended to 58 feet and fitted with a 60-horsepower petrol engine which provided a top speed of eight knots. On the 28th June 1930, following the refit, she was launched and following trials on the Thames, her maiden voyage was over to France. Charles and his wife Sylvia then spent the next few years using her to spend holidays cruising along the coasts of Northern Europe. In 1936, Sundowner was again refitted, this time with a 72-horsepower diesel engine, which now afforded her a top speed of 10 knots.

Sundowner was requisitioned by the admiralty on May 31st, 1940 as part of the call for the 'little ships' in needed to assist with the evacuation from Dunkirk. She was crewed by the now 66-year-old Charles, his eldest son Roger and an 18-year-old Sea Scout, Gerald Ashcroft. They left Ramsgate on the morning of June 1st and crossed the Channel along with five other vessels. En route, they rescued the crew of the motor cruiser Westerly, which had broken down and was ablaze. On arriving at Dunkirk. It became evident to Lightoller, that it was going to be impossible to dock directly at the piers in the harbour, due to the difference in the height because of the state of the tide, so pulled alongside HMS Worcester (destroyer D96) and transferred 130 troops for the voyage home. Sundowner was only allowed to make the one rescue trip, as by the time she returned to Ramsgate, only vessels capable of 20 or more knots were permitted to take part further. After Dunkirk, Sundowner was retained by the Admiralty, which used her for coastal patrols along the River Blackwater in Essex, before being transferred to both the River Clyde and the control of the Royal Army Service Corps as part of 647 Transport Company. She was returned to Lightoller following a refit in 1946 and resumed her peacetime career as a family pleasure cruiser.

Lightoller died on December 8th, 1952 aged 78. A life-long pipe smoker, it is suspected that the recorded cause of death, chronic heart disease, was aggravated by the Great Smog of 1952. He was cremated; his ashes being scattered at Mortlake Crematorium in Richmond, Surrey. His wife continued to use Sundowner, personally taking her over to Dunkirk for the 25th anniversary in 1965. Sundowner then passed through various private owners before finally being purchased by the East Kent Maritime Trust which has berthed her in the marina at Ramsgate ever since. She is open to the public and regularly takes part in the Little Ships flotillas to mark the anniversaries of Dunkirk.


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