The High Street in Blaenavon came to a standstill on Tuesday as the mourners turned out to honour the town's most famous sporting son, Ken Jones.
St Peter's Church was filled to overflowing for the funeral of arguably Wales's greatest all-round sportsman. His wife of 58 years, Irene, and their son Philip, led the mourners and there were many great names from the past among the congregation.
His former Newport team mate, and Best Man, Hedley Rowlands was among a Newport Athletic Club contingent that followed in the coffin that included Wales and Lions stars Bryn Meredith, Stuart Watkins and Brian Price. The President of the Welsh Rugby Union, Keith Rowlands, led a group of WRU Board members and athletics was represented by former Olympian Steve Brace, who runs Welsh Athletics.
There were a host of ex-Welsh internationals, including Bleddyn Williams, Malcolm Thomas and Jack Matthews who all played with Ken in Grand Slam matches, as well as two other Newport and Wales greats, David Watkins and Brian Jones.
It was Brian Jones who read the eulogy to Ken and who struck a chord with everyone when he said: "We live in an age of instant superstars, when today's golden boys and so often turned into tomorrow's flops. As far as Ken is concerned, his star shone brighter than most and simply never waned."
KENNETH JEFFREY JONES (RUGBY PLAYER, ATHLETE) Born Blaenavon, 30 December, 1921
Died Newport, 18 April, 2006
Married Irene Edmunds on 30 December 1947
1 son, Philip
Ken Jones will forever be remembered as the man who scored the vital try that helped Wales to beat New Zealand at Cardiff Arms Park in 1953 - the last time Wales beat the All Blacks. The flying Newport winger latched on to a cross kick from Clem Thomas with five minutes left to play and transformed an 8-8 draw into a famous 13-8 Welsh victory.
Yet there were many more golden moments in one of the greatest British sporting careers of the past sixty years. Unquestionably Wales's greatest all rounder, he was often asked to name his finest achievement. It was a task he always warmed to had to take his time over. The boy from Blaenavon had plenty to chew over, yet he always came up with the same answer.
Was it that try against the All Blacks in 1953, or the near length of the field score against New Zealand for the British & Irish Lions in 1950 - still recalled as one of the greatest tries ever scored at Auckland's Eden Park. It could have been any of the eight tries he scored to help Wales win Grand Slams in 1950 and 1952.
In fact, he could have picked any one of the then record equalling 17 Welsh tries he scored in what was then a world record 44 appearances for his country between 1947-57, and there were also countless heroic deeds for his club in a 293 match career than included 145 tries and two seasons as captain.
Yet it was not his rugby achievements that received top billing from the man himself, but his exploits on the athletics track. The man who started out as the All-India sprint champion during WW11 graduated to become the captain of the British track and field team at the 1954 European Championships, where he won a silver medal in the sprint relay, a bronze medallist at the 1954 Commonwealth Games over 200 metres for Wales and the proud owner of four Welsh sprint record and 17 domestic titles.
Yet none of those great deeds could compare with the ultimate thrill in any sporting career of competing at an Olympic Games. It had been the victory over 100 yards at the All-Indian Olympic Games at Christmas 1945 that kick-started the then Sgt 1653958 Jones's athletics career and in 1946 he won the Welsh 100 and 200 metre crowns for the first time, titles he would go on to win every year up to 1954, except 1950 when he was on tour in New Zealand with the Lions.
"Those victories in 1946 got me selected for the British team to run in Oslo and Cologne and that really was my big breakthrough. I got picked as an Olympic possible and in 1948 I entered the Southern Counties Championships. I was eligible to run in the Southern Counties event because the only place I could get a teaching post was in Bath," recalled Jones.
"I arrived for the 1948 championships at Uxbridge to find myself lining up alongside Emmanuel McDonald Bailey and Alistair McCorquodale, both of who went on to reach the Olympic final in 1948. I decided to give it a go and I beat them both, breaking even time for the first time and equalling the English native and Welsh national records with a time of 9.8 sec.
"I finished in the places at the AAA Championships and went on to make the Olympic team in London."
Wembley Stadium was the home of athletics at the 1948 Games and Jones revelled in the atmosphere.
"It was fascinating being able to run there -the atmosphere was electric and it was a bit scary initially," he said."But when I think back on my career as both a rugby player and an athlete I would have to pick the 1948 Olympic Games as the highlight. Reaching the semi-finals of the 100 metres, and being among the 12 fastest men in the world, as well as winning a silver medal in the relay, has to top the lot.
"It made me feel especially proud, as a boy from Blaenavon who had never competed on a cinder track before winning the Southern Counties title in 1948, to reach that level."
In fact, Jones and his team mates Alistair McCorquodale, John Gregory and John Archer were presented with the gold medal despite finishing behind the American quartet. The United States team finished six yards ahead of the home team - 40.6 sec to 41.3 sec - but were disqualified for allegedly running out of the change over box on the first baton change between Barney Ewell and Lorenzo Wright.
"It was a great feeling going out into the middle of the field at Wembley to be presented with a gold medal in front of a home crowd. Then, of course, they played God Save the King," said Ken, who ran the anchor leg. "We were pleased enough to have finished second, in front of the Italians and Hungarians, but to be elevated into first place was a marvellous bonus. Unfortunately, it only lasted for a few days.
"The Americans appealed and three days later a Jury of Appeal viewed films of the race and ruled the change over was legal. We were called back to Wembley from our Uxbridge camp and asked to hand back our gold medals.
"It took almost a month for us to have our silver medals sent to us. Even so, coming through two rounds of the 100 metres and reaching the semi-final gave me just as much of a thrill."
A product of West Mon Grammar School, Jones spent most of his working life as a teacher at Newport High School. He also reported on rugby and athletics in Wales for the Sunday Express from 1958-85. He became President of Newport Athletic Club, which incorporates Newport Rugby Club, but expressed his keen dislike for professionalism in 1995 by resigning from his post having served the club for almost 50 years.
"I cannot accept or live with the professionalism in rugby now and the Newport Athletic Club has become a professional rugby league club. If people think Wales will now have a wonderful team they are mistaken. Wales will never have that again,â€ he said at his time of resignation.
"Rugby Union used to be a religion in Wales. Chapels have fallen down and rugby union is going the same way."
He was the first Welsh Sportsman of the Year in 1955, ran the baton containing the Queen's speech into Cardiff Arms Park at the opening ceremony of the 1958 Commonwealth Games, was awarded the OBE for his services to sport in 1960 and became one of the inaugural 10 members on the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame's "Roll of Honour" in the early nineties.
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