Ron Jones’ story ‘The Auschwitz Goalkeeper’.
Those of us who gathered to hear the harrowing accounts of Ron Jones’ experience during World War II, would agree, that it was a privilege. This gentle man and natural story teller had seen and suffered things that no person should ever experience when he was taken Prisoner of War in January 1942 and kept in Auschwitz for two years.
The stories however, also served to remind us of Ron’s resilience, good humour and respect for people – qualities which undoubtedly contributed to his survival during the war and his recovery afterwards.
The story unfolded as Ron, at 101 years old, stood to talk to his audience for almost an hour. Born in Rogerstone to an industrial blacksmith and a tailoress, Ron’s father insisted he left school at 14 and follow him into the steel industry. Being in a reserved occupation, Ron would have avoided active service in World War II, had it not been for a mistake made by a typist at Guest Keen Works.
After training with the South Wales Borderers, Ron was posted to Egypt in August 1941 and captured in January 1942. He spent eight months in appalling conditions in a POW camp at Alta Mura in southern Italy; covered with lice, freezing cold at night and reliant on Red Cross parcels for survival. With conditions so bad, a few hundred of the POWs offered to work. They were put on a passenger train, thinking they were heading for Milan. When the train stopped, they were in the Brenner Pass and were handed over to the Germans. It was August 1943. They were loaded onto cattle trucks; the destination was Auschwitz. Approaching the camp they saw men in striped pyjamas digging trenches in the freezing cold. Ron said: ‘They were all bound for the gas chambers; we were looking at dead men walking. We had arrived at our final destination, in more ways than one’.
Cigarettes were currency in Auschwitz. By giving the guards some, the British POWs were allowed out into the field to play football every Sunday. When the Red Cross realised this, they brought footballs and shirts in the colours of the home nations. Ron’s mother had taught him to sew and he decided to use his skills to embroider the Prince of Wales feathers onto the Welsh shirts, using thread from old socks.
With the Russians advancing into Poland, the
German guards forced Ron and the other POWs to march towards the Austrian border. In what became known as The Long March or The Death March, the POWs trudged wearily for 17 weeks, with little or no food and sleeping in fields in temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees. Some six hundred miles were covered. Two hundred and sixty men soon became less than a hundred. Ron remembers the time when he ate a raw chicken. ‘It was lovely’ he said.
When liberated from a barn by US forces, Ron weighed 7 stone (half his original weight), was covered in lice and sick when he ate anything. ‘But I was still alive’, he said. In May 1945, Ron returned home to his dear wife Gwladys and to a community which supported his long road to recovery. ‘It took me four of five years before I was back to normal again’.
Ron joined the Royal Legion after he retired and worked tirelessly to raise money through the selling of poppies .
Our thanks are to Ron for sharing his experiences with us and to the Friends of Wenvoe Library for organising what is hopefully the first of many ‘Meet the Author’ evenings.
Read all of Ron Jones’ story in ‘The Auschwitz Goalkeeper’.