A former soldier and Auschwitz survivor, who’s 100-years-old, is still selling poppies for the The Royal British Legion, volunteering for up to six hours every day at his local supermarket.
Ron Jones, who celebrated his milestone birthday on April 30, lives in Bassaleg, Newport and has been collecting for the Poppy Appeal since 1981 – he insists he’ll never retire from the charity work.
The grandfather-of-two was called up to fight in 1940 and served as a lance corporal in 1st Battalion Welch Regiment in the Middle East.
Mr Jones was captured in Benghazi in 1942 and after nine months in Italy, was transferred to forced labour camp, E715, part of Auschwitz, according to Press Association.
Without proper rations and covered in lice, he feared Auschwitz would be his final resting place and doubted he’d ever get back to his wife Gladys and hometown of Newport, South Wales.
The only thing keeping his spirits up was a football match he would play against the guards every Sunday – where his regular position earned him the nickname ‘the goalkeeper of Auschwitz’.
After two years of being held at the camp, he was forced to join the ‘death march’ of prisoners across Europe in 1945.
He was freed by American troops and was able to return home to Newport and his wife in May 1945, weighing just 7st.
Mr Jones worked at the city’s docks until his retirement in 1980, then began collecting for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal the following year:
I’ve been selling poppies for about 30 years, I go down to Tesco every year for a fortnight, practically every day.
I like to do a lot for the British Legion as we help dependants, we help the boys coming back from Afghanistan.
If they need help, I’m there.
I’ve made as much as £15,000 occasionally but normally we get up to nine or ten thousand.
Speaking about the football games at Auschwitz, Mr Jones said:
The red cross heard about it – they sent us four sets of shirts, English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish and a couple of leather balls.
We even persuaded the guards to let us out in the field between us and the Jewish camp to play every Sunday, because that was the only day we didn’t work.
Big crowds used to come and watch us. It kept us fit and alive.
Despite being committed to volunteering, he was almost forced to retire in 2015 and again in 2016 because of deteriorating health, which saw him lose his driving licence, relying on other people to transport him.
Mr Jones, who lives independently – Gladys sadly passed away in 2005, works six-hour shifts on a 14 day stretch selling poppies up until Remembrance Sunday.
He revealed his celebrity status, recalling how outside a Tesco on Harlech Retail Park, one ‘fan’ drove up to the stall from London, just to buy a poppy personally from him for £20.
Lynne Woodyatt, community fundraiser for The Royal British Legion, paid tribute to Mr Jones’s continuous help, saying he is a ‘legend’:
He’s one of our key volunteers and an ambassador for the appeal – he does supermarket collections for us, he’s quite a celebrity.
Good work, Ron.