Polish hero awarded top medal for wartime deeds

Boleslaw Kozub. Picture: Greg Macvean
Boleslaw Kozub. Picture: Greg Macvean
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He saw action in some of the Second World War’s most brutal conflicts and was among the brave troops who stormed the beaches of Normandy.

And now a Polish hero who settled in the Capital after the war is set to be awarded the highest civilian honour offered by his home country.

Boleslaw Kozub will be presented with the Gold Cross of Merit by the Polish consulate today, in recognition of his “extraordinary” services to Poland during the six-year conflict.

The 99-year-old veteran, who will celebrate his centenary in August, fled Poland as a young soldier during the Nazi invasion of 1939 and would later take part in some of the war’s most dramatic battles – including the second wave of the Normandy landings, the largest seaborne invasion in history.

His journey from Poland to France at the outbreak of war took him through Hungary, Yugoslavia and Italy, and he spent many months evading capture by German forces. During one border crossing he hid underneath a pile of coal on a goods train to escape detection.

Like so many Polish soldiers, he eventually came to Scotland and served in the 10th Polish Armoured Cavalry Brigade, which became the 1st Polish Armoured Division in 1942, commanded by General Maczek.

And in June 1944 he was shipped to Normandy, from where he would go on to fight in the decisive Battle of the Falaise Pocket, which saw Nazi forces encircled and trapped by the Allies – opening the route to Paris and the German borders.

His epic war journey ended in Wilhelmshaven in Germany, where on May 4, 1945, he and his fellow troops accepted the surrender of several German military units – including the naval base of Kriegsmarine, Ostfriesland naval fleet, ten infantry divisions, eight auxiliary regiments, three cruisers, 18 U-boats and 205 army ships.

But the modest veteran, who settled in Edinburgh after meeting his Scottish wife Catherine Mackenzie “at the dancing”, spent years concealing his heroic war efforts from his three children.

Daughter Denyse Kozub, 63, insisted the story of her father’s part in the brutal conflict had been a “revelation” to herself and her two brothers.

She said: “He didn’t talk about it initially. When we were young children he never talked about it. He didn’t start opening up until we were in our 20s.

“At that point he started to talk about where he had been and what he had done, so slowly we have learned about all the campaigns he was involved in.

“I think he felt more comfortable telling us when we were older. We started to ask him what he did in the war.

“But it absolutely changed our impression of him – it was such a revelation. We were quite proud of what he was telling us, and quite amazed by it. Hiding in coal trucks and things like that – it was like something you would make a film about.”

And Denyse revealed her brave dad, who now lives in Newington, has never forgotten his Polish roots – regularly sending money back to the small farming village where he grew up.

She said: “He didn’t go back to Poland for 20 years – he couldn’t, the communists wouldn’t let you travel there. To leave his country of birth and not go back for 20 years was hard for him, but he is very fond of Scotland.”

A spokeswoman for the Polish Consulate said: “Mr Kozub is receiving the award for his services to Poland. He was a member of the Polish forces in the west, so he was very much involved in the fight for freedom – and regardless of his age, he is still an active member of the Polish community.

“This award is to say thank you to him for all his efforts from the consulate general, and effectively the Polish government.”

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com