Poppy seller who survived Auschwitz to celebrate 100th birthday

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Poppy seller who survived Auschwitz to celebrate 100th birthday

Royal British Legion poppy collector who survived the infamous Nazi death camp is marking his centenary.

Ron Jones marking his centenary.
Ron Jones marking his centenary.

A Royal British Legion poppy collector who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp is celebrating his 100th birthday.

Ron Jones is marking his centenary on April 30.

Mr Jones, from Bassaleg, Newport, South Wales, has been collecting for the Royal British Legion poppy appeal for more than 30 years.

He was a prisoner of war in the Nazi death camp while serving in the 1st Battalion of the Welch Regiment during the Second World War.

He was captured in 1943 in the Middle East and, after nine months in Italy, was transferred to forced labour camp E715 – part of the Auschwitz complex.

Mr Jones has been a familiar face in Newport during the build-up to Remembrance Sunday, selling poppies at Tesco on the Harlech Retail Park.

Lynne Woodyatt, community fundraiser for The Royal British Legion, said: “Ron is one of our oldest poppy collectors and one that we hold in very high regard.

“The Royal British Legion is something very close to his heart and we wish him our sincere congratulations on his milestone birthday.

“His many friends at the Legion will be thinking of him at this time and hoping he has a wonderful day on Sunday celebrating with his family.

“He is a true hero and a gentleman.”

Ant Metcalfe, the Royal British Legion’s manager for Wales, said: “On behalf of everyone at the Royal British Legion, I would like to thank Ron for his invaluable contribution to the Poppy Appeal over the years.

“By sharing his incredible story of survival and resilience, Ron has touched so many people and left a lasting impression on many.

“His loyal and determined long service to the Poppy Appeal has given the public a compelling reason to donate to the charity and helped us to reach those people who may be in need of support in the future.”

Mike Jones, Poppy Appeal organiser for Gwent, said: “Ron is a true ambassador, such a character and a real gentleman.

“Not only is he one of our oldest collectors but one of our most popular. Happy Birthday, Ron.”

Mr Jones was a young lance corporal when he was captured in Benghazi, Libya.

At Auschwitz he worked alongside Jewish slave labourers at IG Farben’s infamous chemical factory.

After two years being held in the camp, Mr Jones was forced to join the “death march” of prisoners across Europe in 1945.

He finally returned home on the second week of May 1945.

“The way the Nazis treated the Jews was horrible. It was like they were less than human,” Mr Jones said in an interview last year.

“The first thing you would notice was the smell. If the wind was in your direction the smell was terrible.

“We did not know what would happen to us.

“We thought at one time they would stick us in the gas chamber, the same as the Jews, because it was not just Jews going in, it was Poles, political prisoners, gypsies, homosexuals.

“We were always frightened we would be next.

“I was 13 stone when I left for war and seven stone when I returned five years later.

“I remember when I finally got home after five years, my wife Gwladys put me in the bath.

“I looked into her eyes and saw tears rolling down her cheek. I said ‘Don’t cry my love. I’ve come home. I left men out there who will never come home’.”

It is the horrors of war that drive his determination to keep collecting for the Poppy Appeal.

When he returned home, Mr Jones worked at the docks in Newport until his retirement in 1980.

He started collecting for the Poppy Appeal in 1981.

“The poppy means everything to me. The Legion was there for all my mates who returned home from World War Two and needed help,” he said.

“And today the Legion is still there to help all the boys and girls who come back from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“It’s important everyone wears a poppy to remember what other generations went through for them.

“Me and my mates were marched from Auschwitz for 900 miles across Europe before we were freed by the Americans.

“We were marching for four months, in freezing conditions. I watched more than 100 of my comrades die on that march.

“People need to remember what has gone before them and the sacrifices made.”

Mr Jones added: “I’ve been collecting for the Poppy Appeal for more than 30 years.

“It’s not just about remembering my generation, the Legion is here for all generations of the armed forces community, and it’s important to remember there’s a new generation that needs your support.”

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