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Family of Titanic survivor unveils memorial at resting place

Robert Hichens was helmsman and one of six quartermasters on the liner’s ill-fated maiden voyage.

Unveiling: Sally Nilsson and Ian Burnett

The family of a survivor of the Titanic disaster has gathered to unveil a memorial at his final resting place in Aberdeen.

Robert Hichens was helmsman and one of six quartermasters on the liner’s ill-fated maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in 1912.

His character was tarnished by the event and the controversy surrounding his role in the disaster but Mr Hichens’ great granddaughter Sally Nilsson, who unveiled the plaque, fought tirelessly to redeem his reputation.

Her battle culminated in the writing of the book The Man Who Sank Titanic: The Troubled Life of Quartermaster Robert Hichens.

During her research, Ms Nilsson discovered her great grandfather, who died in September of 1940, might have been buried in one of Aberdeen’s cemeteries.

With the help of Ian Burnett, bereavement services officer at Aberdeen City Council, they were able to search records and track down Robert’s final resting place in Trinity Cemetery. 

Sally said: “For over 100 years no one knew where the last man at the wheel of Titanic was buried. Two weeks before the 100th anniversary I found out with the help of Ian Burnett.

“Robert Hichens was one of the most important witnesses on that fateful night. He went on to serve in the First World War and was part of the vital convoys as third officer on the merchant ship SS English Trader during the Battle of the Atlantic in the Second World War.

“We are all very grateful for everyone who has made this special day possible. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Mr Burnett said: “It’s been an honour to help Sally and her family find the grave of her great grandfather and help provide a lasting memorial at the actual place where he was buried with the help of colleagues in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

“We are particularly indebted to Barry Mackland of Memorial Specialists Aberdeen Limited for his marvellous and generous gesture of providing the memorial to Robert Hichens and David Lamb, who is also buried in the plot, completely free of charge”. 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) helped with the installation of the memorial.

Iain Anderson, the commission’s regional manager for Scotland, said: “This fascinating story of marking the grave of one of the RMS Titanic’s helmsman started for CWGC when we were asked to help replace the headstone of a Dutch sailor buried in the same grave as him.

“It’s always rewarding to see how much small acts to remember those who passed mean to families today. This was a joint effort and we were pleased to be able to help in our own small way.”

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