ACT News


Flag of pride flies from Pole war couldn't bend

Monash's Henryk Franek Kustra, dressed in his army uniform and proudly displaying his 10 medals, will be flying the Polish flag at a Remembrance Day ceremony in Woden tomorrow. But he would prefer to be flying the Southern Cross.

''If I had the choice, I would carry the Australian flag,'' Mr Kustra said at the Polish embassy in Yarralumla yesterday.

Polish Independence Day happens to be on the same day as Australia's Remembrance Day, and Mr Kustra said the Woden RSL had convinced him to carry the Polish flag to its November 11 ceremony.

''On Anzac Day for years I carried the Australian flag, not the Polish flag. I owe something to this country, some respect.''

The 87-year-old has been in Australia for 64 years and considers himself true blue. ''This country adopted me. I love it and I consider myself an Australian.''

He arrived here in 1948, after eight years of wartime hell. His heartbreaking story began in the town of Lwow, in eastern Poland, where he and his brother were taken from their home and sent to Siberia. He was 14 and his brother 15.


The teenage brothers used their survival instincts to fight the bitter cold in Kazakhstan - sometimes as low as minus-60 degrees - and to ward off starvation.

''There were a lot of wild cats and dogs and we used to go with the [pieces of timber] and whack the cat or the dog on the head and take it to the bridge and cook him and eat him,'' he said. ''The cats weren't much good but the dogs were all right.''

It was a real prize to snare a snake, he said. ''Snakes are very good to eat - we skinned them after heating them over the fire, the skin comes off easily.''

After being displaced from his homeland, Mr Kustra moved around from Siberia to Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Italy and then to England.

He served under the British command in Africa and in Europe and has several medals to show for it.

But Mr Kustra never wanted to live in Britain. His desire to become an Australian was born while he was in Cairo, recovering in hospital from a bout of malaria that almost killed him. He met several Australians there.

''They gave me their addresses and said: 'Frank, when this bloody war is over, don't go to Poland, you always have a war every 20 years and you'll have to go and fight it - come to Australia, we need a lot of migrants'.''

He took those addresses around with him from Africa to Europe and kept dreaming about the land down under.

''I carried them all of the time with me in Italy - I fought in the battle of Monte Cassino, where we suffered a lot, a lot of soldiers died - and when the war ended we ended up in England and I remembered those Australians, and I said, 'I want to go to Australia.' ''

He arrived in Bathurst with a group of 800 Poles in 1948 and was naturalised as an Australian almost immediately.

Still carrying the addresses of those Australian soldiers, he worked on the Snowy River scheme for several years and earned himself enough money to buy three blocks of land on Sydney's prestigious northern beaches.

It was there that he found two of the soldiers he had met in Cairo years before.

One was in Palm Beach and the other at Frenchs Forest.

''He helped me to build a house, he sold me his car and helped me find electricians to do cheap work for me,'' he said. ''Australians are wonderful people.''

Mr Kustra met a Scottish woman in Sydney, married her and they had two children.

They now have three grandchildren and moved to Canberra a few years ago to be closer to family.

''I never want to go back to Poland,'' he said.