Medal-winning lifeboat crew member Aileen Jones has been recognised for her years of bravery and dedication by being awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours this year.
Aileen Jones was the first female crew member to receive a gallantry award. She was also one of the RNLI’s first female helms; one of the first female Launching Authorities, and the first female crew member at Porthcawl Lifeboat Station.
As a volunteer, she has completely immersed herself in supporting every aspect of the station – one of the busiest in Wales – for the past 21 years.
In 2004 her bravery was recognised with the award of the RNLI bronze medal, presented by The Duke of Kent, for Aileen’s heroic actions in a particularly difficult rescue. Aileen and her crew went to assist a fishing vessel, Gower Pride, that had suffered engine failure in rough seas. They saved two lives that night.
But as Philip Missen, Lifeboat Operations Manager at Porthcawl says, she is much more than an outstanding lifeboat helm. Philip said: ‘Aileen drives the launching tractor, she is a fundraiser, educator and a community ambassador. In 2010 she took on the role of Deputy Launching Authority at the station, where her experience and wisdom have commanded the unqualified respect of the crew. But she is never happier then when operating the 9 tonne Talus launching tractor – she is known as the happiest tractor driver in Porthcawl!’
Aileen says: ‘The RNLI is something I’ve been involved in since I was about 12 or 13. My brother was on the crew and I would always follow him down to the station, and hang around. I was probably a right pain in the neck! I’ve always been involved in boats and I wanted to join the crew when I was 17 but there just weren’t women on the crew in those days. They weren’t seen as a good thing. It’s very different today. I eventually joined when I was 30 and, when I did, the crew were very supportive. In a way, it was better for me to join them as I’d had my family by then.’
Such was her passion for the RNLI that Aileen recruited her husband and her two children to become members of the crew. Her son is now following in her footsteps, training to become a lifeboat helm. As a family, they have given unstintingly to the community and to the RNLI, and Aileen is well known for dropping everything, at any time, to drive round the country to speak on behalf of the charity.
Aileen, who is also a nursery nurse at a primary school, says: ‘I’d love to still be on the boat but my age is creeping up. I’m just glad I can still play an active role.’
She says that receiving the MBE was completely unexpected. ‘I had a letter from the Cabinet Office and thought ‘Oh no, what have I done?’ When I saw what it was, it was a huge surprise.’
Aileen adds: “I wouldn’t have got this award without the support of the crew over all the years I’ve been at the station. The crew and my family. I couldn’t do it on my own.’
Image Credit: RNLI/Ben Gilbert