This Doncaster man cheated death so many times….
There are few men who have lived a life with such fearlessness and fuelled by adrenaline as Armthorpe’s Joe Jones.
Until three years ago, when he suffered a stroke that diminished his capabilities considerably, Joe was still working full time in the hydraulics business he ran with son Kristian.
That was when he was 80, and typified the relentless energy displayed in his many thrill-seeking years as a daring free-fall parachutist.
It almost cost him his life several times. One such incident was well recorded, when his parachute failed to open and his reserve saved him - just – with around four seconds to spare.
That was in 1961, during a jump at an air show in Fairoaks, Surrey. His main parachute had become tangled and was ‘candled’ behind him. He was at just 500 feet when his reserve parachute opened, and seconds from the ground.
The incident earned Joe his Golden Wings from GQ Parachute Company, an award given to those whose lives are saved by a reserve parachute.
Joe’s exploits near and far are now recorded in two self-published books.
‘I did it my way’ is a collection of anecdotes “about happy times with good friends who together chased adventure and excitement”, and a hardback ‘Joe Drops In’, is packed with photographs and memories from over the decades.
Copies of the books can be obtained from the family but are not for sale. Joe requests donations to the Stroke Association instead.
Kristian, 45, explained: “Dad’s had an unusual life and was keen to see the books completed.
“He involved us in adventures too. I’ve always enjoyed extreme sports but not at dad’s level. He always wanted to sky dive apparently, and trained aged 19 at RAF Abingdon.
“He used to take us skiing every year, although he only took up the sport aged 45, and when I was 13 dad and I did a fly-drive across America. It was a fantastic experience.
“He was still skiing in his seventies, with his grandchildren, and worked five days a week at 80. He was a building contractor by trade, and was in service in Cyprus in the mid-’50s.
“Our hydraulics business in Doncaster employs more than 30 people…..dad’s travelled extensively but always came back to Doncaster.
“He lived here from the age of five, but was born in Newmarket, where his dad was a trackside bookie.”
The smaller book of Joe’s is more narrative and refers to his time with the Barnstorming Tiger Club, an air display team Joe refers to as a “small group of reprobates”, based in Surrey. He would be picked up for northern displays at the airfield close to Doncaster Racecourse.
In 1962 he became a founding member of The Yorkshire Skydivers’ Club, with friends Johnnie Beardshaw and George Gilroy-Simpson.
They performed air displays all over the north of England. The men also spent three weeks at Chalon sur Saone parachute school in France, doing four jumps a day, towards qualifications.
They enjoyed great hospitality in the village each evening and would return to pack their chutes at about 10.30pm.
Joe recalls: “Sitting in the plane next morning while climbing to our jumping altitude, I often thought, my God, I was half sozzled when I packed my ‘chute last night and can’t even remember doing it.”
But, he added: “The feeling of free fall, followed by the wait for the canopy to open after pulling the ripcord, is unique and indescribable; so intense is the feeling that when the canopy finally opens it becomes something of an anticlimax.”
Locally, their jumps were from an Auster aircraft owned by Jack Tarr and Jack Bower, who would fly the plane from Doncaster airfield.
Joe’s many exploits in the air were joined by others in the sea. A member of Sheffield Sub-Aqua Club, he and his diving pal were once stranded in the North Sea, close to darkness, after their boatman had jammed his anchor and was unable to follow their buoy.
Luckily, a distress flare alerted Flamboro’ Head coastguards and a rescue helicopter from RAF Leconfield was also dispatched, but it was a fishing boat that plucked the pair from the icy waters.
A member of the British Parachute Club, and the Parachute Regimental Association, Joe is a holder of the Altitude of Gratitude Award, for promoting skydiving and completing over 1000 descents, both military and civilian.
Tellingly, his book also displays a certificate as the ‘World’s Greatest Grandad’.
“He’s been a great dad,” added Kristian, 45. “He did everything for us four as kids.”
Anyone who would like to read Joe’s books can obtain copies by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org