Sally Nilsson has spent years investigating the life of her tragic great grandfather, Robert Hichens, who was at the helm of the RMS Titanic when it sank in 1912.
And yesterday, she and other members of her family gathered in Aberdeen to unveil a memorial commemorating his final resting place, following some remarkable detective work from a city council employee.
Cornishman Mr Hichens was helmsman and one of six quartermasters on the legendary liner’s ill-fated maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.
His character was tarnished by the disaster and the ensuing controversy surrounding his role in it, but his great granddaughter Mrs Nilsson, who unveiled the plaque, with a wheel on it, has fought tirelessly to help redeem his reputation.
She wrote the book The Man Who Sank Titanic: The Troubled Life of Quartermaster Robert Hichens.
During her research for the work, she discovered that Robert might have been buried in a Granite City cemetery.
After enlisting the help of Ian Burnett, bereavement services officer for the council, she was able to search records and track down Mr Hichens’ final resting place in Aberdeen’s Trinity Cemetery.
He had been buried there following his death in 1940, aged 58, in an unmarked grave.
Speaking following the poignant memorial service, Mrs Nilsson said she was excited to be coming to the end of a “long road” to her descendant’s “vindication”.
She said: “For more than a century, no-one knew where the last man at the wheel of Titanic was buried.
“Then, just two weeks before the 100th anniversary, I found out with the help of Ian Burnett.
“Robert 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 convoys as Third Officer on the SS English Trader during the Battle of the Atlantic in the Second World War.
“Robert suffered for the rest of his life after being on Titanic. There have been around 2,000 books written about the event and he was often depicted as a coward or a bully.
“I wanted to tell the story and set the record straight that he was doing his duty and, although he had a very tough time, he served his country in two world wars.
“We are all very grateful for everyone who has made this special day possible and it means everything to me. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Mr Burnett said: “It has 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 CWGC also helped with the installation of the memorial and 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. This was a joint effort and we were pleased to be able to help.”