CHANNEL swimmer Eileen Fenton has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for a lifetime of voluntary service to long distance and competitive swimming.
Miss Fenton, who was born in Dewsbury, received worldwide acclaim in 1950 when she was the first woman home in the first international cross-channel swimming race sponsored by the Daily Mail.
On being told of her award, 91-year-old Eileen said she had been touched and overwhelmed by all the messages of congratulations she had received.
“It is so wonderful but humbling to be recognised in this way for something I have loved doing all my life,” she said.
“It is an honour I want to share with the people of Dewsbury who have always supported me.”
Over many decades, Eileen dedicated her life to her swimmers and her swimming club in Dewsbury, of which she was chairman, secretary and treasurer.
During that time she made a significant difference to generations of children, teenagers and young adults in Dewsbury.
Among the hundreds of congratulatory messages flooding in from friends and former pupils, were many from pupils she had coached in both long-distance and sprint swimming.
Her most famous pupil was Wendy Brook, of Ossett, who, at the age of 20 broke the world record – for both men and women – for swimming the English Channel back in 1976.
Wendy described Eileen as a swimming coach and mentor beyond measure, without whom she could never have achieved her ambition to swim the channel, let alone set up a new world record.
Many of Eileen’s pupils took part in Commonwealth and Empire Games, the first of those being Dewsbury girl Jean Oldroyd who competed in the Empire Games at Cardiff.
Eileen, who now lives in Sandal where she moved to take up a teaching appointment, continued to return to Dewsbury Swimming Baths every day, seven days a week, to coach local youngsters.
A life-sized oil painting of her in the swimming costume she wore for the channel swim hung for many years in the old Dewsbury baths.
Some years ago a Dewsbury artist, the late David Martin, did a reproduction of the painting which now hangs in Dewsbury Town Hall, along with the swimming costume she wore for the swim – which she can still get into....