Polish Lieutenant Colonel Otton Hulacki – who recently celebrated his 100th birthday – was welcomed with grateful applause when he spoke at the D-Day Story Museum in Clarence Esplanade on Saturday.
The event was part of a two-day exhibition to educate more people on the importance of the Polish military effort during the D-Day landings.
Lt Col Hulacki, who fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy, represented his generation of Polish soldiers and said he hoped that more people in Portsmouth and the UK would show an interest in his country’s contribution during the Second World War.
He said: ‘People have definitely got better at appreciating the Polish contribution.’
But the centenarian said his own contribution – taking part in one of the most important and deadly battles of the war – was nothing extraordinary.
He said: ‘I was just an ordinary soldier – I did my job.’
Also honoured at the exhibition was the efforts of the British-Polish 307 Squadron, which defended British cities throughout the Blitz,
Exeter historian Michael Parrott, who helped coordinate the special event, called on more residents of Portsmouth and other cities to learn about how Polish soldiers kept their areas safe.
He said: ‘The Polish D-Day story is so important. Every aspect of the Polish military was involved in D-Day but still very few people are aware of that – including Polish people.’
In September 1940, a Polish air squadron defended Portsmouth from an attack of 50 German bombers, shooting down eleven aircraft with zero loses.
One attendee said he was ‘eternally grateful’ for Polish bravery – which helped keep his grandfather safe on the beaches of Normandy.
Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan said: ‘Without the 307 Squadron and Polish support, my grandfather may not have come back home, and I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you if it wasn’t for their efforts and bravery. They guarded British troops – including my father – in the skies during the D-Day landings.
‘For that alone, I am eternally grateful.’