HE is one of Wales’ national treasures and has sold poppies for more than 30 years. Ron Jones , now aged 102, decided this week to sit down with Tomos Povey at his house to look back over his life.

“OLD age may have its limitations and challenges, but in spite of them, our latter years can be some of the most rewarding and fulfilling” – so the saying goes by the late Billy Graham.

It can certainly be applied to Ron Jones, though.

When in his 80s, the Bassaleg resident shot to fame after speaking publicly of what he witnessed when incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp at Auschwitz from 1943 to 1945.

And during his mid-90s, he went on to help write a book on his experiences, was interviewed in a documentary and film chronicling his life, and was later awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM).

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Ron Jones at his house. Picture: Christinsleyphotography.co.uk

But the now 102-year-old conceded that a recent fall in his bedroom has knocked him back somewhat.

He added that the accident will prevent him from selling poppies this year.

“I could not get up from my bedroom floor and had left my emergency disk on the table,” he said.

"Luckily, it was a Wednesday, and my son comes then, so all I had to do was wait until the afternoon for Leighton to get me up.

"I was in hospital for about 10 days and had three-degree burns from the radiator. I have not fully bounced back from the fall. I tend to stay in my chair now.

“I cannot see myself selling poppies now."

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Ron Jones at home. Picture: Christinsleyphotography.co.uk


However, his physical frailty has not compounded his mental sharpness to both recall and talk at length of what he witnessed during the Second World War.

In the 1940s, Mr Jones was called up to serve in North Africa, but was eventually captured and sent to Fascist Italy in 1943.

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Ron Jones as a young soldier

Once he and other POWs had reached Milan, they were handed over to the Germans, who without delay piled them into cattle tracks.

“We had no idea where we were going,” he recalled.

Exhausted by the three-day journey where the POWs had no access to food or water, Mr Jones was eager to get out of the cattle truck when it came to an abrupt stop. But once out, the unusual sight of people wearing pyjamas immediately caught his attention.

“I remember asking the soldiers who they were,” he said.

“I had no idea why they were wearing pyjamas.”

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Ron Jones (top row, fourth from the left) in Auschwitz

A German officer barked: “Jews.”

Mr Jones added: “He said it as if I should have known.

“We soon learnt that we had arrived at Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland.”

The POWs were put to work at the IB Farben chemical factory, where they all worked from 6am to 6pm six days.

Mr Jones also spoke of his worst memory at Auschwitz and added it was unforgettable.

“The worst thing was the smell of burning flesh from the crematorium next door,” he said.

“It is something you cannot forget.”

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The 102-year-old proceeded to lift up his left hand and explain why he wears a ring on his small finger.

He recalled: “The Red Cross would send us some food. I remember taking some food down for a man who was working in the snow and wearing pyjamas.

“He told me he was Jozef and Jewish. I cannot remember now what he looked like. He then gave me a ring he made out of a piece of steel pipe.

“Then one day I noticed I had not seen Jozef. I asked one of the Polish prisoners where he was. They said he had been sent to the gas chambers.”

Auschwitz became a major site for the Nazis' Final Solution – The Holocaust - to the “Jewish question”.

The Holocaust took place between 1941-45, with an aim to exterminate the Jewish population in Europe. By the time World War Two had come to an end, Nazi Germany had systematically murdered an estimated 17 million people who were deemed "racially inferior". Those who fell victim were primarily Jews, Poles and Roma people.

By January 1945, major military successes had been accomplished by the Allies against the Axis powers – Nazi Germany, Italy and Japan. The military might from the Soviet Union coming from the east, coupled with Britain and America from the west, made defeat almost certain for Nazi Germany.

As a result, German officials began to frantically move PoWs and other prisoners deeper into Germany — these became known as death marches.

“One day in January we could hear fighting up the road,” said Mr Jones.

“Sgt Major Charlie Coward had a wireless, which he hid from the officers. We found out that the Russians were getting close and knew it was them.

“I was moved from Auschwitz in January 1945. We were marched across Poland. It was exhausting.

“We were starving, too. I remember chasing away a pig so I could eat potatoes it had been chewing on.

"We were struggling to survive the death march.

“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.”

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Ron Jones selling poppies

The Bassaleg resident was then repatriated in May 1945.

Mr Jones also revealed that the reason he continually speaks of his ordeals is so all future generations never forget the horrors of World War Two.

He said: “People need to remember what happened.

“I had been a poppy seller since 1984 because I thought that was another way how to raise awareness of past events.

“What I saw must never happen again.”

He also said that during his long-life poppy selling has been one of the most enjoyable experiences.

"I have had a lot of highlights,” he said.

"I think having sold poppies since 1984 until last year has been one of the best.”

Son Leighton Jones added how proud he is of his father, saying: "Very few people will have a film featuring them at such a grand old age.

"He was also given the British Empire Medal (BEM) for poppy selling.”