THE story of how a Bournemouth man perished on the Titanic after helping his wife and children to safety can be told for the first time.

Arthur West helped wife Ada and daughters Constance and Barbara on to a lifeboat before darting back to their cabin to get a flask of hot milk for them.

When he returned, the boat was being lowered into the sea, so he shimmied down a rope and handed them the flask before climbing back aboard the liner.

The story has emerged 97 years on after artefacts belonging to his family were made public.

Andrew Aldridge, of Henry Aldridge Auctioneers of Devizes, Wiltshire, which is selling the documents, said the archive was “unique”.

“It has been owned by the same family since 1912 and has barely been seen by anyone before,” he said.

“The family hardly spoke about the disaster, except for the odd correspondence with family, and rejected offers from film-makers and others.

“The whole collection catalogues the beginning, middle and end of the Titanic voyage from their point of view – from letters of hope and anticipation by Mr West, to his wife’s hand-written account about the sinking and a heart-rending letter she wrote talking about her loss.

“And pinning it all together is this old flask that she kept all these years because it represents the last moment shared between her and her husband.”

Mr West, 36, of Paisley Road, Southbourne, was a floor walker at department store JJ Allen.

The family was emigrating to Florida when the Titanic hit an iceberg on April 14, 1912.

Mrs West and her children, Constance, five, and Barbara, 10 months, were placed into lifeboat 10.

In her account, Mrs West said: “The experiences I have been through with all the other poor creatures have been enough for two lifetimes.”

She added: “We were amongst the first to leave the ship. Arthur placed life belts upon the children, then carried them onto the boat deck.

“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.”

Undetected by the crew in charge of the lifeboat, male passengers Masabumi Hosono, 41, and Neshan Krekorian, 25, had crept on board.

Mrs West wrote: “There were men in our boat who had concealed themselves under the ladies’ skirts and had to be asked to stop lighting cigarettes.”

She added: “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 [Arthur’s] safety...

“The steward who seemed to be in charge called out ‘Pull up, men – they’re singing in the other boats. Give them a shout!’ “The noise they made drowned all the cries and we gradually drew away from the scene of the wreck and did not turn back until some time after the [rescue ship] Carpathia had appeared.”

Mr West’s body was never recovered.

Ada West died aged 74 in 1953 and Constance died in 1963, aged 56.

When Barbara Dainton West died aged 96 in 2007 she was the last but one British survivor of the Titanic.

The archive is expected to fetch up to £60,000 at auction on April 18.