British war hero known as the ‘Goalkeeper of Auschwitz’ is still selling poppies at grand old age of 100

A British war hero dubbed the ‘Goalkeeper of Auschwitz’ is still selling poppies for the Royal British Legion, aged 100.

Ron Jones earned the nickname playing football every Sunday for two years with his fellow soldiers in the Nazi camp.

He was later forced to join the “death march” of prisoners across Europe in 1945 but was eventually freed by American troops.

The soldier returned home to his wife Gladys in Bassaleg, Newport, and began selling poppies after his retirement in 1981.

Ron, a grandfather-of-one, volunteers for up to six hours a day at his local Tesco supermarket in Newport.

He is one of Britain’s oldest poppy sellers - and one of the hardest working.

The war hero, whose wife died in 2005, said: “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.”

Ron has no plans to retire and has been described as a “legend” by British Legion community fundraiser Lynne Woodyatt.

She said: “He’s quite a celebrity. The young generation love to interact with him and he loves to get them involved.”

Ron stars in a film called The Poppy Seller, released on November 11, and has donated his payment to The Royal British Legion.

Most Tesco shoppers have no idea of the hell the poppy seller went through during World War II.

After being captured by the Germans, he was told by Field Marshall Erwin Rommel that his war was over.

While in Auschwitz prisoner of war camp he saw his friend shot dead by the Gestapo guards.

He lived in constant fear of being sent to the infamous gas chambers at the nearby concentration camp.

But he kept up his spirits by playing football every weekend - always in his favourite position of goalkeeper.

Ron, who worked as a docker after the war, said: “To keep our spirits up we would kick a rag around the camp.

“When 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 every Sunday - the only day we didn’t work.

“Big crowds used to come and watch us. It kept us fit and alive.

“We lost hope that we’d ever get home.

“We thought one day when we became too much trouble we would end up in the gas chambers, because it wasn’t just Jews they gassed.

“It was homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russians, political prisoners, gypsies from Romania.”

Incredibly Ron’s job as a skilled wire drawer at a factory in Cardiff gave him immunity from conscription.

But a typist accidentally put his paperwork in the wrong pile and he was called up to fight for his country.

After being captured in Libya he spent eight months in a string of Italian prison camps.

He volunteered to work in the Milan motor factories but was handed over to the Germans after Italy surrendered.

Remembering his arrival at Auschwitz, Ron said: “There was a queer smell that persisted for two or three days.

“We asked the Polish prisoners what it was. They said, ‘That’s the crematoriums’.

“We didn’t believe they were gassing all those Jews at first. It was three weeks before we realised what they really did there. It shook us rigid.”

Like many prisoners Ron risked punishment to help the Jews, smuggling them his rations if he had extra food.

Ron said: “I can still see the camp at Auschwitz and my friends who never made it home.

“Sometimes those memories make it hard to sleep. That’s why I still get up every day to sell poppies. It’s vitally important.”