Polish veteran marches with Anzac mates

When World War II ended, Polish man Frank Kustra had no home to go to.

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His homeland considered him a traitor.

It was the Australian sense of humour he came to know while serving in Africa, France and Italy that convinced him to make the move Down Under.

It’s still the best move he ever made.

“They told me ‘Frank, when this bloody war is over, come to Australia’,” the 90-year-old told AAP at he Australian War Memorial in Canberra on Monday.

“I was recently celebrating my 90th birthday and they told me ‘happy birthday Frank, you old Polish bastard’ – that’s the Australian sense of humour which I like.”

When the war ended, Mr Kustra’s Polish village had become part of Russia.

His mother had died before the war began, his father was shot by the Soviets and his brother died of typhus, after the pair had survived two years in the gulags of Siberia.

Aged 14 and 15, they were sentenced to five years because they were part of the Scouting movement.

“They said we’ll give you five years to re-educate you so you become a good communist. But we didn’t.”

As a 16-year-old orphan, he was given the option of migrating to New Zealand to get an education.

He chose to fight instead, before making the move to Australia in 1948 where he ended up working on the Snowy Hydro project and marrying a Scottish girl.

He even ended up on an Australian stamp, a reward for his volunteering efforts during the Sydney Olympics.

Mr Kustra marched at the front the Anzac Day parade in Canberra.

He used to march with the Poles but there’s only two left, so he asked the Woden RSL if he could join them.

“I said I’m going to march with you, I’ve got an Australian flag and they said, we’ve got plenty of Australian flags, have you got the Polish flag?

“So I am marching in front with my Polish flag.”

Poland now welcomes him as a hero, sending him regular cheques for his service.

“I said I’m not a hero, I am only a survivor – heroes are my friends, my colleagues that lie in the cemetery in Tobruk.

“I told them I don’t want this money for my service, that was my duty – but give me the money for the beer.”