Auschwitz surviving poppy seller from Newport turns 100

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image source, Wales News Service

One of Britain's oldest poppy sellers, who was a prisoner of war in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, celebrates his 100th birthday on Sunday.

Ron Jones, from Bassaleg, in Newport, only retired from collecting for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal in 2016, after 30 years' service.

Mr Jones's advice for living to a ripe old age is to simply "live your natural life, that's all I've ever done".

He is celebrating his centenary with a family party.

Mr Jones was captured in the Middle East during World War Two and said he arrived at Auschwitz in October 1943.

image source, Ron Jones

He said he never spoke about his experience at Auschwitz until the release of a Steven Spielberg film about the holocaust in 1994.

"Nobody seemed interested until they put the Schindler's List on and then everybody found out about it of course," he said.

Speaking about his arrival at the camp, Mr Jones told BBC Wales: "We saw all this barbed wire and men in pyjamas digging trenches, and someone said to one of the guards 'who the heck are they?'

"He said 'Jews', just like that, as though we should have known.

"And we couldn't understand what the smell was. Someone asked, and he said 'oh that's the crematorium'.

"It took us two or three weeks before we actually accepted that they were gassing and burning them."

He has previously recounted his experiences at the camp where he worked six days a week in a factory and being permitted to play football with his fellow soldiers on Sunday.

Mr Jones said he used playing football with a "rag ball" as a form of escapism and embroidered the Prince of Wales' feathers on his shirts using old socks.

image source, Ron Jones
image caption, Ron Jones (middle of back row) played football while a prisoner of war near Auschwitz

"It was a relief, you know, to do something."

But he said he returned home a different person: "It altered me. My wife used to look at me and say 'you're not the man I married'.

"Well, I wasn't. I was a changed man completely when I came home. I was in a hell of a state.

"I used to get nightmares and boils and all sorts.

"It took me about four or five years before I was a normal man again, and then she used to kiss me and say 'you're back to normal'."

image source, Royal British Legion

Of his 100th birthday celebration, Mr Jones quipped: "I'll be glad when it's over because of the fuss they're making."

Ant Metcalfe, the Royal British Legion's manager for Wales, said: "By sharing his incredible story of survival and resilience with the press and media Ron has touched so many people and left a lasting impression on many."

Mike Jones, Poppy Appeal organiser for Gwent, added: "Ron is a true ambassador, such a character and a real gentleman. Not only [was] he one of our oldest collectors but one of our most popular."

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