FIRST PERSON: Ron Jones, Bassaleg veteran of Auschwitz
3:40pm Wednesday 9th January 2013 in News
‘NEVER FORGET’: Ron Jones, from Bassaleg, 96, is a survivor of the Auschwitz prisoner of war camp in the Second World War
He sells poppies and gives talks to schoolchildren so that they never forget the sacrifices made in war, but RON JONES will never forget his time in the Auschwitz prisoner-of-war camp, or his 900 mile ‘death march’ across Europe.
“LIFE in the prisoner-ofwar camp wasn’t that bad really.
There was the humiliation and the lack of food, but on the whole life wasn’t too bad and the Germans, contrary to what a lot of people think, were pretty good to us on the whole.
But it was the march that was terrible, I could still see it when I went back to Auschwitz, I couldn’t sleep with the memories.
I jokingly call my story ‘A soldier’s story’ and that story should never have happened in the first place.
I was working as a wire drawer in Cardiff docks so I was in a reserved occupation. Out of 62 working with me I was the only one called up.
I was in bed and my wife, Gwladys, came in and said: “There’s a buff envelope here from the War Office, Ron.”
Now it seemed as though every six months you filled in a form to say you had a reserved occupation, so I couldn’t understand how I had callup papers.
I went down to the works to see the personnel officer and they found out that some typist had put my form in the incoming mail rather than the outgoing mail, so I got called up.
So within six months I was abroad.
I was sent out with a contingent of the South Wales Borderers to Cairo to make up the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Regiment.
I was in Cairo for about two months and then we got sent up the desert.
We fought our way up to Benghazi by December 1941 and had a Christmas dinner. Of course, Rommel’s crowd were coming up there then. Sgt Major Cockbill said to me one day, “go up the road and see what’s happening, Corporal Jones”. I went up the road with a group of men and there was a dirty great German tank there.
A fellow at the front said, “Drop your guns, boys, the war is over”.
We were held in Italy until 1943, when we were asked one day if any of us were engineers. Of course, a lot of hands went up, they said we were needed to work in the factories in Milan. We were transported up the country by train but soon discovered it wasn’t to go to Milan.
We were handed over to the Germans, who piled us into cattle tracks and drove us across Europe for three days with no food, water, nowhere to use the latrine.
When we finally arrived we could see all these people in pyjamas behind barbed wire. We asked who they were and the German officer said “Jews”, as though it should be obvious. We soon worked out it was Auschwitz.
I worked at the IB Farben chemical factory in a synthetic petrol plant.
There were 18 of us in my hut and we worked from six till six, six days a week.
On Sundays we got to play football and I was the goalkeeper for the Welsh prisoner of war XI. The Red Cross had brought us out a set of four football kits, Welsh, English, Scottish and Irish.
It was no holiday camp, mind.
One day Corporal Reynolds was told to go up a ladder and change some pipes in the roof of one of the factories. He was scared of heights and kept telling them he couldn’t do it, but he didn’t speak enough German for them to understand.
There was a guard who had already been in trouble for stabbing one of our boys. He tried to force Reynolds to go up again. When he refused he shot him with his Luger. You should have seen how quickly I went up that ladder.
The worst thing about the prisoner-of-war camp was the smell of burning flesh from the crematorium next door.
We used to get some food through from the Red Cross and one day I took a piece of saltage down to this man I could see in pyjamas in the snow, digging a trench on the other side of the fence.
He said his name was Jozef. We used to chat for a while and he gave me a ring he made out of a piece of steel pipe.
One day I went down there and asked another of the Polish prisoners where Jozef was. They said he had been sent to the gas chambers.
I still wear the ring to this day.
I was at Auschwitz from October 1943 to January 1945.
One day in January we could hear fighting up the road. Sgt Major Charlie Coward had a wireless, which he hid from the officers. Even we didn’t know where it was but we were getting news through that the Russians were getting close so we knew it was them.
In the second week of January the Germans just rounded us up and marched us out. We must have been on the road for around 17 weeks, walking right across Poland, Germany and into Austria in the middle of winter when it was 15 to 20 degrees Celsius below zero.
I had sacks on my feet because my boots fell apart on the walk.
We were starving, too. I remember kicking a pig out the way one day to get the potatoes he was eating.
About 230 of us left Auschwitz but when we got to Regensburg, where the Germans left us in a barn, there were only about 150 of us when the Americans found us.
When I was repatriated in May 1945 my wife was washing me in the bath and crying because I was so thin. I was like a Belsen boy. I said: “Don’t cry, love, I came home in one piece.”
There were a lot of people who died along the road. You can never forget something like that.
My wife, Gwladys, never gave up on me. We were village sweethearts in Bassaleg. It was always me and Gwlad partnered together at the dances growing up.
Even though she didn’t know where I was she waited all those years. She eventually had a letter from a nun in Scotland who had heard I was alive. I still don’t know how she knew or who she was to this day.
Gwladys died seven years ago. I have had such a wonderful life with her. She was a great companion, and what a cook! I miss her terribly.
Now I still sell poppies for the Royal British Legion every year and I give talks in local schools about my experience.
It is something we should never forget and I am amazed at how attentive the children are. Hopefully they will pass the message on to their children as there are only three of us left from the march now. Brian Bishop, Dennis Argyll and me."