‘Beach hero’ drowns to save stranded child

West Wittering beach, in Sussex – the site of the weekend’s tragedy.

When a young girl drifted out to sea this weekend, she was saved by the bravery of one man – but the rescuer paid the ultimate price. Should people give up their lives for others?

Close to the heart of the City of London, hidden in the shadow of the skyscrapers and office buildings, is a tranquil park. Along one faded wall is a list of names that few will recognise: Frederick Alfred Croft, killed by a train whilst saving a woman from suicide; Mary Rogers, who gave up her life belt on a sinking ship; eight-year-old Henry Bristow, burned to death when saving his sister.

This is Watts’ Memorial: a neglected monument to people who died to save others. It was built over 100 years ago, but only 53 names are engraved on it. It is rare for someone to sacrifice their life for someone else.

This Sunday, one man did. On a Sussex beach, a child in a flimsy rubber ring was swept forty metres out to sea. She was saved by a stranger: a man who dived into the waves and dragged her twenty metres towards the shore, where she was pulled to the beach by another swimmer.

The girl survived, but at a price: her exhausted rescuer slipped under the water and drowned. As yet, little is known about him. But all agree on one thing: ‘the man died a hero and should be known as a hero’.

People have long been fascinated by those who give up their lives for others. Last year, the world watched in awe as a handful of men entered the stricken power plant at Fukushima. To save Japan from nuclear catastrophe, they faced what looked, at the time, like deadly radiation.

And when planes hit the World Trade Centre in the 9/11 terror attacks, the New York firefighters who died rescuing trapped workers were met with sober admiration from across the globe.

Individuals do not just sacrifice themselves to save lives. Sikh history is full of noble martyrs, who perished in gruesome ways for their faith. Emily Davidson famously threw herself in front of a King’s horse to raise awareness for the women’s right to vote; today, scores of Buddhists have set themselves alight to protest the presence of China in Tibet.

The ultimate sacrifice?

Some people treasure this kind of self-sacrifice. To make their lives worthwhile, they think, individuals should put making the world a better place first, and their own well being second. Sometimes, that means making big sacrifices for the greater good. As Martin Luther King once said, ‘a man who is not willing to die for something is not fit to live.’

Others disagree. It is all very well being called a hero, but not if you are not around to enjoy it. Being honourable means nothing to someone who is six feet under. Life is the most precious thing anyone has. It is foolish to risk it for the sake of someone, or something, else.

You Decide

  1. Would you give up your life to save someone else?
  2. Why bother making sacrifices that are not going to benefit you?

Activities

  1. Write a memorial that recognises the extraordinary sacrifice of the ‘beach hero.
  2. Write an argument for selfishness, and why it might be best to put yourself first.

Some People Say...

“I always put others before myself.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why do people behave selflessly?
For evolutionary scientists, it’s a problem. Animals pass on their genes by having offspring. But creatures that happily sacrifice themselves for others are unlikely to survive long enough to breed. If this is the case, the ‘self-sacrifice’ gene should have died out long ago.
So why is it still around?
Some have speculated that it must be useful for survival – and there are a few different theories about why. According to one, altruistic peopledo help the continuation of their genes – by helping family members, who have similar genetic material to them, bring up their young. Another idea points out that in early societies, those who shared food and protected each other from enemies were more likely to do well.

Word Watch

Fukushima
The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last February caused extensive damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Flooding caused reactors at the plant to melt down, releasing radioactive material into the air and water. The damage was eventually contained, but at great cost to Japan’s nuclear industry.
9/11
When al Qaeda terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Centre on September 11th 2001, New York firemen were among the first people on the scene. Many were inside the towers, attempting to evacuate those inside, when the buildings collapsed. Today, many of those who survived still suffer serious health problems, caused by the smoke and chemicals emitted by the disaster.
Noble Martyrs
As a relatively new and minority religion, Sikhism has been subject to a great deal of persecution through history. When dominant religions tried to force Sikhs to abandon their beliefs, many refused – and opted for death and torture instead. Some died in shocking ways: after being boiled alive, sawn in half, or cut to pieces limb by limb.

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