Titanic: a personal footnote

Geoffrey Godwin on board the yacht Sundowner with Charles Lightoller, Calais, 1939 (detail)

As I was about to write my review of A Night to Remember, I visited my mother and dug through boxes and albums of old photographs looking for one in particular that I remembered from my childhood. This was of Commander Charles Lightoller’s yacht Sundowner at sea. Although I didn’t find that picture, I found the ones included here instead.

Charles Lightoller on his yacht, Sundowner (1939)

As 2nd Officer on the Titanic on her maiden voyage, Lightoller (played by Kenneth More in the film) had been in charge of the lifeboats. After the sinking, he found that his association with the Titanic was held against him by his White Star Line employers and following the First World War, he pursued other work, eventually as a “property speculator”. But he remained a sailor in his later years, eventually buying that motor yacht.

My father met him sometime in the late ’30s and sailed with him on Sundowner. The pictures here were taken on a trip to Calais in 1939 when my father would have been about 18.

Geoffrey Godwin and Charles Lightoller on the deck of Sundowner

In May 1940, when he was 66, Lightoller and Sundowner took part in the evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk, bringing 130 soldiers back under enemy fire.

After the war, in 1946-47, my parents rented the upper part of a house in Richmond from Lightoller and were occasionally invited to dinner by him and his wife, Sylvia. The following year, having bought a houseboat, they moored it at a dock owned by Lightoller and his family at Twickenham, where Lightoller had a boat repair and rental business. My mother recalls that he was a charming, rather sweet-natured man.

Charles Lightoller at work on deck

Lightoller died a couple of years before I was born, but I do have a memory of visiting his widow, whom we referred to as “Granny Lights”, in Twickenham in the early ’60s, when I was seven or eight. Although I can’t recall the details, my brother tells me it was a gloomy affair, we children having to sit quietly while the adults talked about sombre subjects.

Strange to think that I hadn’t given any of this much thought until I was faced with reviewing A Night to Remember … and realized that I have only a couple of degrees of separation from the sinking of the Titanic!

Geoffrey Godwin on board the yacht Sundowner with Charles Lightoller, Calais, 1939


9 thoughts on “Titanic: a personal footnote

  1. How I do love the internet. I hope you read this and are able to respond, Ken. I am the eldest granddaughter of Charles Herbert and the daughter of Roger. My mother and I left England in 1947 and I never saw the grandparents after that. In fact, it is only in recent years that I am in contact with any of my English cousins. I have copied the photos in your article and trust you will not feel that was amiss.
    Many Thanks, Daphne

    1. Yes indeed, Daphne, the Internet does tend to make the world a small place! And you’re certainly welcome to take copies of the photos of your grandfather.

  2. I am wanting to contact Daphne Harrie nee Lightoller regarding her father Roger and the Granville Raid

    Many thanks indeed

    kind regards

  3. What a wonderful entry, and fascinating stories and photographs. I’ll be giving a talk at the National Maritime Museum in NZ soon, and wonder if you would mind me using one or two of these photos of Lightoller and Sundowner to accompany my comments on his work at Dunkirk? With attribution, of course!

  4. Hello Kenneth,

    My mother interviewed your father in 1966 and wrote an article about him when he sailed into St. John’s harbour in Penny Ballerina. My brother recently came across the boat in Trinity Bay . I can send you a photo if you’d like.

    1. Thanks, Rich – this is really unexpected; I hadn’t given the boat any thought in, literally, decades. I’m amazed it’s still around!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Blasts from the past

Tobe Hooper’s mangled career

The amateur passion of Michael J. Murphy

DVD Review: The Disco Exorcist (2011)

Late summer viewing: Spies, Killers and Terrorists