The rough chop of the Welsh sea wades back and forth across Rhyl’s famous seaside sand. The fierce tidal surge we witness from the overlooking window of the lifeboat station provides a stark reminder of the true power of the ocean, something that Martin Jones (right) is all too familiar with.
Martin, 47 sits opposite me with a beaming smile from ear-to-ear as he says: ‘I received a letter in January from the Cabinet Office which said that the Prime Minister had recommended me to The Queen for this award.’
Martin Jones has been part of the Rhyl lifeboat crew for almost 30 years. In December he received the news that he is to be awarded an MBE for his outstanding services to maritime safety. He said excitedly, ‘I thought it was a wind up at first! You usually get these awards at the end of your career, not in the middle, it was a definite surprise.’
Martin began volunteering for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution when he was just seventeen and progressed to the paid positions of mechanic, training coordinator and went on to become the station’s coxswain in 2010. The charity was founded in 1824 and has saved over 140,000 lives. The Rhyl station covers a 55 mile distance from Colwyn Bay to Hoylake which can experience particularly rough seas and cyclonic gales during the winter months.
When asked what attracted him to the lifeboats, smiling once again Martin replied, ‘My grandfather Eric was a tractor driver for the crew, as a child I would come to the station and experience it. I always dreamt that I would work for the lifeboat myself.’
Having been on over 700 call-outs during his time in the crew, Martin can’t possibly have experienced heroic satisfaction all of the time. ‘It is an amazingly fulfilling job, you get some real satisfaction, although you do sometimes have the unpleasant task of recovering bodies.’ Martin reminisces on occasions where he and his crew had to ride 10-foot waves in force ten storms, putting themselves in danger in order to save others.
When I spun the conversation back to the MBE he coyly replied, ‘It’s not my cup of tea I don’t like the limelight, for me I just do my job, but it’s not often you can say you’ve been inside Buckingham Palace.’ Martin was delightfully decorous and evidently shocked by the news of his award.
For Martin he may just be doing a job, but it is definitely far from the average nine-to-five career. Martin began to recall some of the harrowing experiences he has witnessed over his thirty year spin. He stated that he is also part of the National Flood Team and helped to save 74 people during the Cumbria floods in December 2015, including a grandmother and two children whose bungalow was completely flooded. ‘Having two children myself it really did hit home, what might have happened if we hadn’t arrived on time? Being able to save children who have maybe been washed out to sea and hand them back to their parents is the most amazing feeling.’
Martin began to reminisce about the downsides of such a demanding profession. He particularly focused on the struggles and strains his work commitments have on family life. ‘Every single year the pager has gone off on my daughter’s birthday, she’s fifteen. But I have no choice, the lifeboat has to come first and the boat has to go to sea.’ Martin has been married for thirteen years and says that his two children are used to his job-centric lifestyle ‘They have been brought up with it so they understand even though it has been a big strain over the years. They deserve the MBE too!’
Martin then exclaimed, ‘Would you like to come and see the boats?’ Before I knew it I was inside the 55 foot vessel as Martin proudly showed me the complex engine controls and steering gears within his floating kingdom. Observing first-hand the mechanics and on-hold medical equipment inside the boat highlighted how much skill really goes into a lifeboat rescue. Martin explained that it can take twelve to eighteen months to fully train a candidate.
‘We are extremely lucky in Rhyl, we have 30 strong crew members who we can call on anytime. Some are doctors, electricians, doormen and additionally volunteer for the lifeboats, they have to drop everything if the pager goes off. Commitment is incredibly high but I do warn that it will take over your life, and the divorce rate is high!’ Modest Martin insisted that the MBE was an award dedicated to the whole charity and the incredible work completed by the volunteers and employees over the years.
Martin pointed out that an array of advancements are soon to arrive at the Rhyl lifeboat station including a £2.2 million Shannon class lifeboat which is the most technologically advanced of its kind and is twice as fast as Rhyl’s current Tamar class boat. He added that a visitor’s centre, training department and a station expansion was also in talks. ‘These new developments will be great for the local schools and educational purposes.’
Martin highlighted that a major issue for the lifeboats is the fact many people are not sufficiently educated on the deadly dangers at sea. He referred to the highly reported deaths of two boys after they were washed ashore on Barmouth beach in 2016, pointing out that this issue has never been more prominent.
Martin Jones finished the interview by saying that he is thoroughly looking forward to what 2017 holds for him and the lifeboat station. He said ‘I always say to people if you have a dream keep going for it, I did and it paid off.’
The interview with Martin was conducted on 5th February 2017 before he received his MBE on 25th March.