The great man is he who does not lose his child's heart. (Mencius, Chinese philosopher 372-289 BC)

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Heroism of Fathers on The Titanic 1

RMS Titanic sank 100 years and 3 days ago today. It is an event that still touches us all. It is not just the fact that over 1500 souls perished on that freezing night in the North Atlantic but the human stories that it tells of the heroism, cowardice and individual tragedies of that fateful night.

There can't be many of us who have not asked themselves what they would have done had they been on board on the 14th-15th April 1912.

It is an event that I have found particularly poignant since I have become a father. Would I have been able to let women and children go first. Could I have stood on the deck and watched my wife and family being led away from me to safety, knowing that I would never see them again? Could I have been a hero?

Hopefully that is not a question that I will ever have to answer - but it is one that two fathers, Arthur West and the Reverend John Harper were faced with.

This is Arthur West's story. Come back on Friday to read the story of John Harper.

Arthur West

Arthur West. Picture from   
Arthur West joined RMS Titanic at Southampton with his family - his wife Ada and daughters Barbara (10 months) and Constance (4). A shop floor worker from Cornwall, he was planning to start a new life in Florida in the fruit culture business. 

He enjoyed being on board the "unsinkable ship" writing a letter to family on 11th April telling them about what an enjoyable trip it had been so far with 'scarcely a movement felt' adding: 'I hope we have a calm trip....till we reach our journeys end.'

On the night on the 14th April the West family were awakened from their second class cabin by the noise of passengers hurrying outside. His wife Ada takes up the story:
"We were all asleep when the collision took place, but we were only jolted in our berths - my husband and children not even being awakened, and it was only the hurrying of passengers outside the cabin that caused alarm. The steward bade us all get up and dress thoroughly with plenty of warm things. Arthur placed lifebelts upon the children and then carried them to the boat deck. I followed carrying my handbag."

They were among the first passengers to board the lifeboats. It was then that Arthur made the heroic decision that would save another's life. Ada continues:
The flask fetched by Arthur
"After seeing us safely into the lifeboat Arthur returned to the cabin for a thermos of hot milk and finding the lifeboat let down he reached it by means of a rope, gave the flask to me, and, with a farewell returned to the deck of the ship."

Arthur had the option to remain in the lifeboat with his young family but chose not to because it was not the honourable thing to do. (In contrast to two male passengers in the same lifeboat who hid under the skirts of some of the women and were discovered when the smoke from their cigarettes gave them away!) His place was taken by another passenger - whose life he had saved.

Ada, who died in 1953, continued to believe that she would see her husband again until she saw the ship sink and "heard the awful groans and cries from the poor drowning creatures" It was then that she started to fear for his safety.

The grieving family were rescued by The Carpathia before returning to Britain. Barbara died in 2007 -she rarely discussed the events of the night she lost her father.

Truro Cathedral. Picture from The Daily Mail.

You can find out more about Arthur West's story by visiting Encyclopaedia Titanica or the Daily Mail archive.

On Friday - the story of the Reverend John Harper (pictured below with daughter Nan who survived the sinking of the Titanic)

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