On cloud nine ­- secretary of parachute survivors club is honoured by Queen

AN INSPIRATIONAL woman who has had her voluntary service recognised in the Queen s birthday honours list this year says her unpaid work is a labour of love . Last month Eileen Robinson, of Icknield Way in Letchworth GC, was awarded an MBE for voluntary s

AN INSPIRATIONAL woman who has had her voluntary service recognised in the Queen's birthday honours list this year says her unpaid work is "a labour of love".

Last month Eileen Robinson, of Icknield Way in Letchworth GC, was awarded an MBE for voluntary service to the Caterpillar Club Association. She will receive her medal from the Queen at Buckingham Palace later in the year.

Eileen is secretary of the Caterpillar Club Association, which was formed in 1982 and covers London and the Home Counties.

The club has no formal organisation, no meetings, no annual fees and no officers, but the requirement for membership is rigid - members must have had their lives saved by jumping out of a disabled aircraft with an Irvin parachute.

Eileen said: "When requests come in to become a member they have to be able to prove that this is what happened. This proof usually comes from their RAF station. The club is quite unique."

In April 1919, Leslie Irvin developed a parachute that could be deployed from a back-pack, using a rip-cord. Before this, parachutes were stored in canisters attached to the aircraft and, if the plane was spinning, the parachute could not be deployed.

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Irvin was the first person to make a premeditated free fall jump from an airplane.

He went on to form the Irving Airchute Company, so called because a careless clerk added a g during the registration of the firm, an error which was later corrected. The company became Irvin Aerospace and the Irvin brand is now a part of Airborne Systems.

Virtually all parachutes used by the Royal Air Force in WWII were manufactured at Irvin's factories in Letchworth GC. So great was the military need that, in addition to the factory on Icknield Way, production was also moved to Spirella on Bridge Road.

All members of the Caterpillar Club Association receive a membership card and a gold lapel pin of a caterpillar with amethyst eyes.

The club's name and emblem refer to the original parachute canopies, which were made from silk. "Life depends on a silken thread" is the club's motto.

Eileen said: "Quite a lot of my role is answering queries - families sometimes get in touch to find out information about relatives who were members of the club - and arranging get-togethers. Most members are now in their eighties and nineties but we try and meet up.

"They are wonderful people with great stories to tell, and comradeship. I think the country would be a poorer place if they hadn't been saved. They are such a wonderful group of people, but obviously a lot of them are no longer with us because of their age."

She added: "We have about 32,000 members in the UK, but I think that there are about 100,000 worldwide."

Speaking about her MBE, Eileen said: "It was a complete and utter surprise. I had a letter from the Cabinet office about a month before [the Queen's birthday honours list was announced].

"One of my ex-colleagues put me forward and it went through various RAF people - some I know, some I don't know.

"It's a big honour to be awarded for something which I love doing. It's a labour of love for me.

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