YOU won’t find a prouder or more patriotic Englishman than Polish born, Russian speaking Zygmund ‘Ziggy’ Makowski.
“They call me the ‘English Pole’,” laughs Ziggy, 93, who settled in Oldham after the Second World War.
‘Home’ for Austerlands based Ziggy would now be Belarus.
His birthplace of Brest in the former east Polish province of Kresy was annexed by the Soviet Union nearly 70 years ago and given a new identity in 1991.
Now, with the approach of Remembrance Sunday, the Independent spoke to World War II veteran Ziggy about his extraordinary life.
“Ziggy is a very proud Polish man but a fantastic Englishman as well,” says neighbour Carl Gannon.
Ziggy was born in March 1924 and lived in Poland until he was 15. His father, a railway station master, was born in Moscow and his mother in Minsk, now Belarus.
Eventually, a pact between Russian politician, Vyacheslav Molotov and German foreign minister, Joachim Von Ribbentrop led to a significant part of the ethnic Polish population of Kresy being deported to areas of the Soviet Union including Siberia and Kazakhstan.
“Anyone who didn’t want to conform to Russian ideas was forcibly evacuated to Siberia,” said twice married, father of three Ziggy. “I was one of them.”
The family endured two horrific years on the Siberian steppes before Stalin agreed to release the Poles from their servitude.
Leaving behind his girlfriend, eventually to become his first wife, Ziggy joined the Polish forces fighting for the Allies.
He eventually arrived in Scotland, via Persia (now Iran), Israel, South Africa and France.
“In Persia, the beach was cordoned off with barbed wire so no one could escape,” he explained.
“The Poles couldn’t mix with English soldiers because they were full of diseases after being locked away for two years.
“My oldest brother was there at same time but I couldn’t find him.
“Long after the War finished my mother found out he had died on the beach through typhoid.”
At 18, Ziggy was a soldier billeted in Scotland but moved to a Polish college in Glasgow, passing his Certificate of Matriculation.
Eventually, he was called into action, fighting with other Polish troops alongside Canadian counterparts on Sword Beach in Normandy.
They played a decisive role in the Battle of Falaise, one of the key victories of the Normandy offensive. Sadly, his medals were stolen in a burglary more than a quarter of a century later.
“Although I treasured my medals I also felt ashamed of them because I killed people,” he recalled.
“But if I didn’t kill them, they would have killed me.”
After the War, Ziggy, married to a Polish RAF girl, Alina, with a young daughter, got a job with Balfour Beattie. He later transferred south of the border to help build the third Woodhead railway tunnel.
Back in Oldham, Ziggy worked as a labourer for J Duncan Limited.
In 1970, he helped form the Polish Ex Serviceman’s Club in Glodwick, raising funds to buy the building at the corner of Churchill Street and Greengate Street.
He officially retired at 71 but has lived an active life ever since.
Up to last year when he suffered a nasty accident, he was still cycling regularly.
Ziggy now married to Marlene, his wife of 43 years, is a loyal and vocal Oldham Athletic supporter, a keen member of Saddleworth Bridge Club and above all a patriot.
“I was born in Poland but if anyone says a bad word about England it annoys me so much,” he said. And you disagree with Ziggy at your peril!