There can rarely have been more of an innocent abroad than Lance-Corporal Ron Jones at the start of the Second World War. Born near Newport, he was working in a Cardiff steel forgings factory when he was called up by the South Wales Borderers as a result, he claims, of a clerical error, a fact that still nettles him at the age of 96. No wonder - he was captured by the Germans at Benghazi in January 1942 and ended up at Auschwitz.
Up to 1,400 British prisoners of war were forced labourers at the IG Farben chemical processing plant, part of the Auschwitz complex. They were housed in the E715 prison camp, next door to the concentration camp, and Jones was there from October 1943 until the Germans abandoned Auschwitz in January 1945. Although their conditions were dreadful, Jones is at pains to point out that they were as nothing compared to what the Jews next door went through.
The PoWs worked six days a week but could play football and basketball in the summer months of 1944; Jones played in goal and took part in a tournament staged to (successfully) dupe visiting Red Cross delegates into thinking that the Britons were being well treated.
In The Auschwitz Goalkeeper: A Prisoner of War's True Story (Gomer, £14.99) Ron Jones has finally decided to tell his story, partly to help counter Holocaust deniers and partly to add his voice to those who have doubted parts of three other Auschwitz memoirs by former British PoWs.
In his 1998 biography, Arthur Dodd claimed he broke out three times to help partisans; Charles Coward, who died in 1976, and Denis Avey, in the most eye-catching recent such memoir, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz (2011), both claimed to have swapped places with Jewish inmates in the concentration camp for humanitarian purposes. Many inconsistencies in Avey's story have been highlighted since. Jones knew all three and cannot believe tall, fit, strong Englishmen could pass themselves off as starving, six-stone Jews.
Whatever the truth about such yarns, Jones's own memoir rings true. He smelt the stench of burning bodies and witnessed the most dreadful atrocities.
His book is, alas, repetitive and disorganised. Ghosted by the football writer Joe Lovejoy, it pads out Jones's own words with familiar material about Allied war policy towards the camps and war criminals, largely by simply reprinting lengthy sections of documents and other books. The editing is sloppy and there is no index. But we should all be grateful to Ron Jones for his quiet courage and for adding his own small piece to the Holocaust jigsaw.