Fiction logo

Voyage of Redemption

by S. Frazer 5 months ago in Historical
Report Story

A tale of Charles Lightoller

Charles Lightoller was the senior surviving officer of the Titanic sinking. He infamously lowered several half-full lifeboats, intending to fill them with women and children once they had reached the water; instead, the boats pushed off from Titanic and did not return. Decades later, after Lightoller had retired from service in the Royal Navy, he aided in the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940. In a boat licensed to carry just 21 passengers, Lightoller and his crew rescued 127 British servicemen from the advancing German troops. Over 330,000 Allied soldiers were saved from the French coast. This is my fictionalized retelling of that day. Lightoller was depicted in James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic, and a character in the 2017 film Dunkirk (ironically named “Mr. Dawson”) is based on him.

The day was clear, bright and sunny. Charlie gazed out over the water, the Port of Ramsgate fading behind him. His vessel had been requisitioned by the Admiralty, but he had insisted upon sailing it himself. Five ships sailed alongside his own, all headed for the French coast to the east.

It reminded him of another spring day, nearly three decades prior, when the sea had been calm and the waves had peacefully lapped against the bow of the most luxurious ocean liner in existence. That tranquil April afternoon had given no indication of the horror that would ensue just hours later.

It always came to him in flashes. The jolt of the ship as it collided with the iceberg. The frigid water piercing his skin like a thousand knives being driven into his flesh. Clinging to the overturned lifeboat Collapsible B. And always, always he saw the image of the half-empty boats, slowly drifting away as Titanic’s bow inched deeper into the water. He had shouted at them to return, to no avail.

“Evacuate the women and children,” Captain Smith had said. And he had obeyed, following orders to what, some later accused, may have been a fault. When no more women and children were waiting to board, he had lowered the boats, rather than fill them with the desperate men who crowded the deck of Titanic as she tilted at a steeper and steeper angle into the frigid North Atlantic.

And when two dozen men had attempted to board Lifeboat 2, he had threatened them with his revolver. He could still see their anguished, petrified faces as he brandished the unloaded weapon at them. “Get out of there, you damned cowards!” he had yelled. “I'd like to see every one of you overboard!” They had hated him for it, he could see it in their eyes. And he didn’t blame them, not really. Cowards they may have been, but it was easy to lose one’s courage in the face of death. When Lifeboat 2 was finally lowered, just seventeen of the forty seats had been filled.

Not this time, he thought grimly. This time, he was on a mission to save men. His brows furrowed in stubborn determination as he gazed out across the water to the east, where the French coast was slowly coming into focus. This time, there would be no half-empty boats, no missed opportunity to save lives. They would evacuate every Allied soldier from the beaches of Dunkirk, and he would do his part.

Looking out across the water, Charlie noticed a small cloud of smoke billowing in the distance. Veering slightly north, he steered the motoryacht in its direction, soon coming upon a broken-down motor cruiser. The small boat was ablaze, rocking precariously against the waves, its crew scattered nearby, some clinging to debris. The men began to swim toward him, and, pushing aside his memories of the overturned lifeboat to which he had clung three decades earlier, Charlie called to his son to throw them a rope. He waited patiently as the last few men clambered aboard, shivering and wet.

“Is that everyone?” he asked, and the men nodded somberly. He glanced once more at the burning vessel, at the name Westerly painted in blue on its side, before setting sail again, directing his vessel southeast. He pretended not to notice the paling faces of the rescued men as he continued to steer Sundowner toward the French coast, rather than in the direction of English sanctuary, of safety, of home. He would not turn back; he could not turn back, not until he had completed his mission.

As they neared the shoreline, Charlie could see thousands of men lining the beach, their faces turned expectantly toward him and the incoming armada of random vessels that signaled their rescue. They did not recoil from the water as those aboard Titanic had; instead, they rushed forward into the waves, relief flooding their faces as more and more boats appeared on the horizon. It was not the ocean that these men feared. This time, the sea would be their salvation.

He scanned the beach, keeping his eyes peeled for Trevor, his son. It was impossible to distinguish faces in the sea of Allied soldiers. As Sundowner neared the coast, the scale of the military operation before them was put into sharp focus—tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of men lined the shore, trapped between the sea and advancing German troops. Approaching the beach, Charlie pulled up alongside a massive warship and sailed in as close to land as possible before finally coming to a halt.

He gestured for the waiting soldiers to begin to board, and they rushed toward him in earnest. Ten men, twenty, thirty, forty. Roger watched uneasily from across the deck as Charlie ushered more and more men onto the small boat.

“There are too many of them,” Roger finally protested. “We’ll sink before we make it out of the harbor!”

“We can take more,” Charlie muttered, more to himself than to his son. The image of half-empty boats bobbing in the chill darkness flashed across his mind. “We have room for more,” he repeated. “Keep boarding!” More and more men crowded into the cabin, onto the deck, into the smallest crevices of the boat, filling every vacant space until no room was left. Charlie gazed around at the dozens of anxious faces before nodding once and giving his son the signal to depart.

Enemy aircraft soared overhead as the boat began its trek back across the English Channel. German Stukas fired down on the retreating vessels, and water shot up in great waves around them. One of the dive bombers suddenly turned its attention on Sundowner, and panic swept over the boat’s passengers.

Charlie stood up in the bow, watching the plane carefully as it advanced toward them. There was no way to out-sail the aircraft, but perhaps… perhaps they could out-maneuver it. Evading enemy fire wasn’t so unlike navigating the ice, he told himself, knowing deep down that the two were nothing alike. Roger stood at the wheel, waiting for direction as the enemy bore down on them, growing closer and closer with each passing second.

“Dad?” Roger called out uncertainly.

Charlie shook his head, his eyes never leaving the advancing Stuka. “Not yet,” he muttered to himself.

Roger’s voice grew more panicked. “Dad?

“Not yet…”

DAD?!

At the last second, Charlie yelled out, “Hard a port!” and Roger yanked the wheel hard to the left, sharply turning Sundowner out of the enemy’s line of fire. The bomb landed on the vessel’s starboard side, and water exploded into the air, spraying against his face and drenching the dozens of men huddled along his boat’s deck. Having missed its target, the aircraft soared past and did not return.

The soldiers whooped and cheered as Charlie pulled back into Ramsgate, the boat nearly capsizing from their weight as they docked. It reminded him of Carpathia, of his own deliverance from the icy waters of the North Atlantic. This voyage, he knew, had been his redemption.

Historical

About the author

S. Frazer

She/her • 28 • Aspiring writer • Author of Fire & Blood, Fire & Fury

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sallyfrazer4

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Add your insights

Comments

There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2022 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.