|To find out more details about my new paperback book on the Titanic and the Californian, including ordering details, please look here.|
[Undated, but before August 10th, 1955]
Your letter in the July Nautical magazine has been brought to my notice. My husband the late Comdr C.H.Lightoller was the senior officer saved after going down with the Titanic, he died two years ago after serving all through this last war. The two junior officers H.J.Pitman and J.Groves Boxhall are still alive their addresses are Pitman, Red House, Pitcombe Bruton, Somerset and Boxhall, Woodcroft, Martins Hill Lane, Burton, Christchurch, Hants. they were both in charge of lifeboats My husband's book Titanic and Other Ships gives a full account and I should be pleased to help you with any further information you may want.
Yours Very Truly
P.S. Naturally my husband discussed the disaster freely with me so I know all the details and wonder if you are a relation of Captain Lord of the Carpathia [sic]
[Undated, but after August 10th 1955 before February 16th 1956]
I want to congratulate you on the success you have made of your book. You have made it a good straightforward story and I'm only sorry that I did not realize when you wrote to me the kind of things you wanted, as I have a number of momentos, but did not think you needed them. I have come to visit my niece in Miami and my name brings a certain amount of publicity. I only wish it would bring in a few dollars as well! for the English allowance is only $90 and that doesn't go far in this country. Did you know when my husband's book Titanic and Other Ships was published it was withdrawn as they were threatened with a libel action because he told the truth about Philips and the delayed message. We only got about £15 out of the copies sold!
With every good wish for "Bumper Sales"
15th April 56
I had an air mail card from my son saying he was sending on a letter from you which had been returned from Miami.
I am staying with relations of my husbands at the above address [in Ohio]. I am hoping I may get a call from the C.B.S for their "I've got a Secret" T.V. programme as I had rather a good one about the Titanic, so if by chance I am chosen to go to New York I should so much like to meet you and have a chat. I am returning to Miami by Greyhound and would route via N.Y. staying over night.
My husband had a silver cigarette case presented to him by a Mrs. Rachel Kelly [?] of Philadelphia and 2 male passengers in appreciation of his work on Titanic. Did you by any chance come across the name? It was the only thanks he received from any one.
1. Walter Lord astonishingly declined Sylvia's offer of information, as he felt that "Lightoller's record was so brilliant and his testimony so clear and vivid that I think I have everything I need."
2. Lord was trying to get Lightoller's book reissued and wrote that, "as I see [it], it would be limited to the facts in Captain Lightoller's original book that were about the Titanic, embellished by the great storehouse of information that you must have picked up from him throughout the years."
3. Lightoller's granddaughter, Lady Louise Patten came forth with astonishing claims in September 2010 to coincide with her new book, "Good As Gold". The claim is that the Titanic had ample warning of disaster, but the helmsman (Quartermaster Robert Hichens) panicked and turned the wheel the wrong way. The inevitable confrontation between steel and ice ensued with the artificial behemoth that was the Titanic losing the calamity. The Chairman of the company that ran the Titanic, Bruce Ismay, ordered the Titanic to steam ahead after the collision. Prior to this, Patten had been in touch with this author to try and locate copies of letters her grandmother sent to Walter Lord in 1955 and 56. It occurred to me that Patten might have been looking for proof to back up her claims, and if this is so, the letters Lord would have disappointed her. All she could rely on was a claim passed down from her grandfather via her grandmother. I, of course contacted Patten, but she was reluctant to say anything about it except to say that, naively, "the interest level has astonished me."
The veracity of Sylvia Lightoller as a source of information was known to me as her stories had come out while researching my own book on the disaster. When I told Patten what I had unearthed about her grandmother and her flexible attitude to the truth (where she was prepared to swear under oath falsehoods to destroy the petition to clear Captain Lord's reputation in 1968), she broke contact off. Let us look at her incredible claims:
She asserts that Hichens was incompetent, being unable to steer the Titanic the right way. 6th Officer Moody, whose job was to stand right next to the Quartermaster and ensure that the orders were carried out, was also incompetent apparently. Hichens, a man who had spent a fair fraction of his career helming vessels, "panicked" when the news of the iceberg came through. Hichens was enclosed in the wheelhouse, at the rear of the bridge. The windows ahead of him were closed to prevent the lights in the house from damaging the night vision of the officers of the watch. All Hichens would have heard was that there was an iceberg dead ahead. He had no idea how far away it was. Why would he panic? Patten asserts that the iceberg was seen two miles away. At 22.5 knots, it would have taken 5 minutes to reach the iceberg. Expert testimony at the inquiry puts it a lot closer. In 5 minutes would a mistake such as poor steering not have been noticed and remedial action been taken?
Then Patten alleges that Ismay ordered Captain Smith to steam ahead after the collision. But this order, which was only minutes in duration, took place only a couple of minutes after the collision. Ismay was in bed at this time. Then Patten alleges that the act of steaming the Titanic doomed her. But the so-called "Ram effect" of water rushing into the hull and exacerbated by forward motion and impacting on the bulkheads, has been shown to have a negligible effect compared to the water pouring into the hull anyway.
I don't doubt Patten's faith in her grandmother's sincerity and that it would make a great basis for a book, but the fact is that her grandmother had not told the truth, and Patten fell for her stories. Perhaps it was a case of a grandmother telling a young, impressionable and entranced child this tragic story in front of a fireside, the child absorbing every riveting detail and believing it. And the worse aspect is that the British media also absorbed the story, unquestioningly, without any doubt, and all for the sake of lascivious headlines.
Walter Lord is just as much to blame for this fiasco. Sylvia seemed keen to share her exclusive information, but Lord neglected to act on the opportunity. He wrote, "[Commander] Lightoller's record was so brilliant and his testimony so clear and vivid that I think I have everything I need." If Lord had only availed himself of the opportunity to contact her, he could easily have destroyed the "wrong turn" nonsense decades before it was lovingly accepted by the press.
4. The "libel action" is a mystery; the controversial statements about the Mesaba's ice warning being read in bed by Harold Bride was included in later reprints of Charles Lightoller's book (for instance, in the Winocur compilation) so obviously there was no "cease and desist order" or any demand for future editions not to include this questionable segment. Perhaps Sylvia was getting confused between this "libel action" and a lively exchange of letters between her husband, Harold Bride and T.J.O'Donnell, the General Secretary of the Association of Wireless and Cable Telegraphists which appeared in editions of the Angus (Scotland) "Evening Telegraph" in January 1936. These exchanges can be found here.
5. A photograph of Sylvia taking part in the 25th anniversary of Operation Dynamo in 1965 can be found here