MOURNERS at the funeral of veteran poppy seller and Auschwitz survivor Ron Jones were told that he always considered himself lucky, in that he survived the horrors of war while so many perished.

Hundreds gathered at St Basil's Church in Bassaleg this afternoon to pay tribute to Mr Jones, who died last month aged 102.

"He lived an incredible life, but he always said he was one of the lucky ones who lived to tell his story when so many did not," said nephew Chris Blight, who led the tributes to Britain's oldest poppy seller.

"He was a hard working man, an honest man, who touched the hearts of so many.

"Nothing was ever too much for Ron."

Mr Blight described his uncle as a family man, one who when he eventually came home after the Second World War was "barely recognisable" after surviving Auschwitz as a prisoner of war.

"He was in a dreadful state. (His wife) Gwladys started nursing him back to health," he said.

"He said many times later in life that if it wasn't for Gwladys, he would not have made it through those months.

"He wanted to provide the best he could for his family, especially his son, Leighton."

Mr Blight described how Mr Jones wanted to give Leighton the best education he could afford, and how they drove to London for Leighton's school entrance exams.

Joan Reynolds, from the Royal British Legion, recalled her visit to Buckingham Palace with Mr Jones.

"About seven years ago, Ron and I were invited to our sovereign lady's garden party at Buckingham Palace," she said.

"I drove, Ron navigated, and we arrived outside the Palace with minutes to spare.

"I turned to check I'd locked the car, and when I looked back, there was no Ron. He was off like a March hare and although he was more than 90 years old, I had a job to catch up with him.

"He thoroughly enjoyed the day seeing Her Majesty, members of the Royal Family, and chatting to other ex-service people, but that was Ron.

"Off like a shot and on to the next event, meeting or job, and so time now Ron, for that very well earned rest."

Mike Jones, Gwent County Poppy Appeal co-ordinator, also paid tribute to Mr Jones.

He said: "Ron was an extremely active member of the Poppy Appeal collectors who annually manned the stand at Tesco on Cardiff Road in Newport, where the staff mothered him, taking care that he was well looked after and fed during the hundreds of hours he spent on the stand.

"During this time, many people became regulars to get their poppy from Ron, and when he wasn't on duty, they would ask: 'Where's Ron?'.

"Of Ron's regulars, quite a few came considerable distances to stop by to chat and listen to Ron's experiences, many keeping in contact with him over the years.

"That says a tremendous amount about the man, and his total dedication."

The service was led by Reverend Canon Anne Golledge.

Hymns at the service included Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer and Lord Of All Hopefulness. Lord Lieutenant of Gwent Brigadier Robert Aitken then read out The Last Post, and a minutes silence was observed.

Mr Jones' funeral was followed by a short service at Gwent Crematorium.

When he was in his 80s, Mr Jones spoke publicly of what he witnessed when held in a prisoner of war sub-camp at Auschwitz from 1943 to 1945, and publishing his experiences in the book 'A Prisoner of War's True Story - The Auschwitz Goalkeeper'.

Mr Jones was called up to fight in 1940 and served as a lance corporal in 1st Battalion Welch Regiment in the Middle East.

He was captured in Benghazi in 1942 and, after nine months in Italy, was transferred to forced labour camp E715, part of the Auschwitz complex.

After two years at the camp he was forced to join the “death march” of prisoners across Europe in 1945.

He was freed by American troops and finally returned home to Newport and his wife Gladys in May 1945, his weight having dropped from 13 stones to just seven.

Mr Jones worked at the city’s docks until his retirement in 1980, and began collecting for the Poppy Appeal the following year.

Mr Jones' coffin entered the church draped in the Union Flag, adorned with a wreath of poppies.