A surprise ceremony has been held for a “remarkable” World War 2 veteran.
The presentation, organised by Carmarthenshire County Council’s armed forces champion Cllr David Jenkins, was to give thanks and gratitude to John Hall Jones from Llansaint, who fought in the 8th army, with the Desert Rats.
Speaking at the event, 96-year-old John said: “This all came as a complete surprise to me. My grandchildren brought me in the car and I thought I was going to Carmarthen to look in the shops and I turned up here. If I’d known I think I’d have walked away, but everyone put me at ease so I weathered it.”
Attending the presentation was HM Lord-Lieutenant of Dyfed, Miss Sara Edwards; Chairman of the council, Cllr Irfon Jones; Retired Lieutenant Colonel David Mathias; Cllr David Jenkins, armed forces champion for Carmarthenshire County Council; Local Member Cllr Mair Stephens and Dewi Treharne, Chelsea Pensioners who was in the same regiment as Mr Jones along with Mr Jones’ family, some of whom had travelled all the way from Belgium for the surprise presentation.
Mr Jones was born in Penrhietyn, Neath in 1921. The family then moved to Llangennech.
In 1937 John was sent to London to work for a German firm as an apprentice toolmaker.
When he was 18 (1939) John was called up and entered the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
After training he was transferred to the Signal Corps, and was attached to the North Somerset Yeomanry.
“I went to North Wales on a signal course and in July 1941, we sailed from Liverpool. We had no idea where we were going,” said John.
John was posted to the Middle East in July 1941, but his arrival there was delayed. The ship he was on was torpedoed in Mid-Atlantic.
“After the torpedo hit, we were slung from one end of the cabin to the other, and there were 30 of us all piled on top of one another. I will never forget the silence of that room. Then one man said: “I think we’ve been hit chaps” at which we all laughed.”
The ship that picked him up was enroute to Canada, so he was there for three months until a boat back to North Africa could be found. John was billeted with a Canadian family, and they still exchange letters and phone calls to this day.
In November 1941 John was moved from Egypt to El Alamein, where he served all the way to Tripoli.
He spent three birthdays in the North African desert.
“At Tripoli, (after it was all over), we boarded a ship back to Egypt, went through another intensive course, and sailed. We thought we were going to France. But it wasn’t – it was Sicily, where we landed at Syracuse.”
John was then involved in the invasion of Sicily, landing at Syracuse, and then with the Italian campaign all the way to Sienna.
The regiment went home and John was sent back to Greece for another year.
John finally returned to Britain, in the bomb bay of a Halifax bomber – but there was no hero’s welcome – as the war had ended a year earlier. John was discharged in September 1946, at just 24-years-old.
Mr Jones received five medals, including the Africa Star and the Italy Star.
“War is a complete and utter waste of time. There must be another solution. When we were boys and we’d just joined up, we didn’t know what war was,” he said. “We had our uniforms and we’d march up and down the streets, running around going to dances and meeting girls, and we thought life was great. Until reality hit us in the face, and all of a sudden, we had to grow up in a couple of hours. Up until then we didn’t realise what it was all about. It was all a bit of a joke.”
Following the war John met his wife Gladys at a dance and the couple were married six months later and had two sons, Trevor and Gareth. The couple were married for over 65 years. Gladys passed away last year, two months short of their 70th wedding anniversary.
After the war John was a police officer for 20 years in the Port of London Police.
He retired in 1968 and then worked as a security officer, fire officer at BP HQ in London, followed by a security officer at Chelmford Crown Court until he retired at 65.
Then the couple returned to Nanternis, a village just outside New Quay. In 1996 they moved to Llansaint.
Cllr David Jenkins, armed forces champion for Carmarthenshire County Council said: “Mr Jones has had a remarkable life and it’s right that he is honoured in a unique service like this. Our debt to him and others like him is very great.”
Retired Lieutenant Colonel David Mathias said: “This is a tremendous war story. Thanks is not enough, but you get our respect and gratitude for all time.”