HE fled Poland as the Second World War broke out and had to hide under a pile of coal on a goods train to escape detection, before joining the fight against the Nazis, storming the beaches of Normandy and taking part in some of the conflict’s most brutal battles.
Now 100-year-old war hero Boleslaw Kozub has been honoured with the freedom of Krakow.
Mr Kozub, who still lives in his own house in Newington, was given VIP treatment during a four-day visit to his homeland which saw him feted by the Polish military, listened to avidly by serving soldiers and sent a message from the president.
He flew out to Krakow on his 100th birthday last Thursday, but was unaware of the enthusiastic reception and extensive celebrations awaiting him. He was met by an official guard of honour and a military band.
Daughter Denyse Kozub, 63, who also made the trip, said: “It was just unbelievable, it was a great big razzamatazz. There was a reception at Krakow airport. There were soldiers there to greet him from what had been the battalion he served in.”
There followed the ceremony to bestow the freedom of Krakow at the council chambers in front of 100 invited guests and a speech from the mayor, an official party in his honour, meetings with military officers and finally a family gathering spanning five generations.
“He had not expected any of it,” said Denyse. “The family party was the only thing he knew about. He didn’t know about the VIP reception, the soldiers’ guard of honour, the military band – but he was up for it.
“He rose to the challenge and was able to make speeches. He never stopped talking for four days.”
The official party included a special message read from the president.
And a group of officers and soldiers travelled 400km to meet him in his home village of Raclawice.
Denyse said: “The army were very interested in his story. It’s about reclaiming their past. Poland was virtually annihilated after the war – all of its infrastructure was exported to Russia; they didn’t have a proper army. Now they are trying to build an army with a history – and he is part of that history.”
The family celebrations saw 60 of Mr Kozub’s relatives gather to mark his 100th birthday. The youngest present was his great-great-great niece, aged four.
Earlier this year, Mr Kozub was presented with Poland’s highest civilian honour, the Gold Cross of Merit, in recognition of his “extraordinary” services to the country during the war.
Fleeing Poland as a young soldier during the Nazi invasion of 1939, he evaded capture for months as he made his way through Hungary, Yugoslavia and Italy. At one border crossing he hid under coal on a goods train to avoid being caught.
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 joined fellow heroes storming the beaches of Normandy.
From there he fought in the Battle of the Falaise Pocket, in which Nazi forces were trapped by the Allies.
And on May 4, 1945, he and his fellow troops accepted the surrender of several German military units at Wilhelmshaven.
He settled in Edinburgh and married a Scottish wife, Catherine Mackenzie, but for years concealed his heroic war efforts from his three children.