Page last updated at 13:28 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Father's Titanic heroics revealed

Flask from Titanic
Symbol of brave devotion: Arthur West's flask from the doomed liner

The story of a father's final act of love towards his family as the Titanic sank has been revealed.

Arthur West scrambled down the rope of a rescue boat to give his wife and two daughters a flask of hot milk before returning to the deck, and his fate.

The 36-year-old's act of bravery was revealed in an account written by his wife, Ada, which is being auctioned next month with the flask and letters.

The items could fetch up to £60,000 at the sale in Devizes, Wiltshire.

The luxury liner struck an iceberg and sank on 15 April 1912, killing 1,517 people.

'Cries and groans'

"We were all asleep when the collision took place, but were only jolted in our berths," Mr West's widow wrote.

"The steward bade us all get up and dress thoroughly with plenty of warm things.

"Arthur placed lifebelts upon the children then carried them on to the boat deck. I followed carrying my handbag.

Barbara Dainton-West
Barbara was rescued aged 10 months along with her sister and mother

"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."

Mr West, his wife and young children, Constance and Barbara, were emigrating to Florida when disaster struck.

The family - second-class passengers, from Truro in Cornwall - were put into lifeboat number 10 before their rescue by another liner, the Carpathia.

Ada wrote that the noble actions of her husband, whom she referred to in one letter as "Dad", had not been matched by two men who had managed to sneak on to their lifeboat.

when I said goodbye to dear Dad it was without a shadow of fear as to our ever seeing him again
Ada West, letter extract

In a statement to the Board of Trade she revealed that the men had hidden under women passengers' skirts.

"I saw no signs of wreckage or bodies, only icebergs - had no idea that the disaster had been so great," she wrote.

"There were men in our boat who had concealed themselves under the ladies skirts and had to be asked to stop lighting cigarettes as there was a danger of the dresses becoming ignited."

In a letter written in New York following their rescue, she also wrote: "We were amongst the first to leave the ship - when I said goodbye to dear Dad it was without a shadow of fear as to our ever seeing him again.

Letter written on the Titanic
Extract of a letter written by Mr West on 10 April 1912

"It was only when I saw the ship sink and heard the awful cries and groans from the poor drowning creatures that I felt the least bit of fear as to his safety. It was all too terrible!"

In a separate letter on Titanic branded stationery, Mr West describes the liner's luxury before the disaster.

"We went aboard and found our cabin, it's most beautifully fitted and the white paint shines like a mirror," he said.

"The rest is mahogany with silver-plated fittings. We have two hanging wardrobes - several drawers - in fact plenty of space for everything."

The statement, the letters and the flask are being auction following the death of Barbara in 2007 - one of the last survivors.

The pre-sale estimate for all the items at Henry Aldridge & Son auctioneers is £40,000 to £60,000.

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