2005: First lifeboatwoman awarded gallantry medal

In 2005, Aileen Jones became the first female lifeboat crew member to receive an RNLI Medal of Gallantry.
Porthcawl RNLI Helm Aileen Jones with her bronze medal fo Gallantry
Porthcawl RNLI Helm Aileen Jones with her Bronze Medal for Gallantry

For her part in the rescue of two crew members aboard the Gower Pride, Porthcawl RNLI Helm Aileen Jones was awarded the Bronze Medal of Gallantry, making her the first woman in 116 years - and the first ever female crew member - to receive an RNLI medal.

The rescue

On 24 August 2004, Helm Aileen Jones, alongside three other crew members, manned RNLI Porthcawl’s B class lifeboat Giles and braved gale force winds, rough seas and a 3m swell to get to the aid of Gower Pride.

The fishing vessel, having suffered engine failure off of the coast of south Wales, had become stranded in worsening weather conditions and had called for help. As Jones described to The Guardian:

‘It wasn't a nice place to be. The water was coming at all angles, his engines had failed, none of his anchors would hold. Whatever the sea decided to do to him, he had no control over it. I had a rough idea where he fished, so we headed up that way, towards the top of the Nash Bank, which is where we saw him.'

Upon reaching the vessel, the crew were able to quickly connect a tow line. However, the terrible conditions caused it to snap, leaving the Gower Pride at the mercy of the sea once more. Now, with the terrible conditions throwing Giles into the air, Aileen and her crew had to try and cast a rope over to the stranded skipper, Gordon Woosnam. After several attempts, the Gower Pride’s skipper caught the rope and attached it the bow, allowing the lifeboat to begin towing her back to safety.

As the crew finally began to tow the Gower Pride to safety, the towline knot came undone, sending the fishing vessel into danger once more.

Trying to reattach the rope to the bow, Skipper Woosnam was unable to reach the rapidly sinking bow - meaning that Porthcawl Crew Member Simon Emms had to board the fishing vessel - despite the 3m swell and atrocious conditions - to tie another rope to the bow, earning himself the nickname Spiderman in the process.

Once attached, the tremendous power of the sea was to take its toll on the rescue one last time, with a large breaking wave slamming the Gower Pride into the lifeboat.

Luckily, Aileen, acting with instinctive agility and displaying incredible seamanship, managed to manoeuvre the two vessels apart and use the lifeboat to prevent the fishing vessel from rolling into further danger.

Finally, with no further complications - and 3½ hours later – Aileen and her crew were able to transfer the tow to The Mumbles’ all-weather lifeboat and return to shore.

Moelfre Tamar class lifeboat launching down the slipway

Photo: RNLI / Danielle Rush

Tamar class lifeboat at Moelfre

‘We owe her, and all involved, a debt of gratitude’

Speaking of Helm Aileen Jones’ brave rescue, former RNLI Operations Director Michael Vlasto, said:

‘Aileen used all her skills in leadership and boathandling to contend with very dangerous sea conditions. Helm Jones and her crew were able to save two lives. We owe her, and all involved, a debt of gratitude.

‘The RNLI recognises the bravery of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and I am very proud that Aileen has been awarded the RNLI's Bronze Medal for Gallantry. Aileen should be very proud.’

By receiving the Bronze Medal, Aileen Jones became the 20th woman in RNLI history to be presented with the award, taking her place amongst other courageous RNLI women - such as Grace Darling - who have shown extraordinary courage and selflessness in the pursuit of saving lives at sea.