Arthur West sailed on the Titanic with his wife and two young daughters.
Now, we all know the story of what happened on that fateful night in April 1912. What we didn’t know until just recently was that, after Mrs West and their two daughters had been safely placed in Lifeboat No. 10, Arthur retuned to their cabin and prepared a Thermos flask of warm milk.
Returning to the deck he found that the life boat had been lowered. So he climbed down the ropes into it and handed the flask to his wife. Then, and this is the real story, he said his farewells to his young family and climbed back up the ropes to the stricken ship. Here he waited with the hundreds of other lost souls for his end. By all accounts, after he had climbed back onto the ship, two other men, an Italian and a Turk, climbed down into the boat and hid beneath some ladies skirts to prevent being ejected by stewards. Apparently they had to be asked to desist from lighting cigarettes for fear that the skirts would ignite.
So often it takes only a split second to make a life changing choice. Arthur West could have also hidden in the boat. One can only assume that he desperately wanted to stay with his family and start the new life that they had planned. One also assumes that it was the gentleman within that prevented him doing just that, or indeed finding his way into another boat to save himself.
The decision that those three men took that night must have taken just a few moments, and yet their repercussions lasted beyond a lifetime.
This is it in a nutshell. We don’t know what’s going to happen even one second in the future and yet we have hopes and dreams that we need to protect. When Arthur West made his choice he must have known that not only was his life going to end, but those of his wife and children would never be the same again. Yet he still did what was considered to be the right thing. He died an honourable man.
So what of the stow-aways? Were they dishonourable because they had saved their own lives? Maybe they had families waiting for them. Perhaps they lived on to become successful men who made the lives of others better with their subsequent endeavours. Would they have lived the remainder of their lives thanking their lucky stars, or would they have regretted behaving the way they did?
We are, none of us, fortune tellers. Yet there is pressure on us to make the correct decision every time. Perhaps there is no right and no wrong, just differing consequences. We make choices every day that could completely change the path of our lives. Often without giving it a second thought. Very rarely do we have to make the kind of choice that Arthur West had to. I wonder if I would have the courage and tenacity that he did.