Joe Dyrlaga obituary

Other lives: Polish refugee who arrived in Britain after the second world war and became an honorary Yorkshireman

My father, Jozef Dyrlaga, who has died aged 94, was one of thousands of displaced Poles who came to Britain after the second world war for the chance of a new life. Finding work as a coalminer, a job he continued until his retirement, Joe became an honorary Yorkshireman and a lover of everything his adoptive county had to offer.

Born in Cięcina, in the mountains near the Czech border, to Karol Dyrlaga, an electrical engineer, and Katerzyna (nee Gluza), a homemaker, he grew up in relative poverty; the family of nine lived in a wooden house with the Catholic church at the centre of their life. He went to the Gymnasium school in Żywiec, where he developed a love of history and learning, but the war cut his education short and he was taken away as forced labour to Germany, working under harsh conditions on a farm.

Returning to Poland after the war, he was reunited with his family, but following an altercation with a soldier from the occupying Soviet army he was forced to flee to Germany, eventually reaching the American sector. In a displaced persons camp in Ingolstadt, near Munich, he was employed as a civilian guard in the US army and received the education he had missed.

Arriving in the UK in 1947, Joe was given a choice of working on a farm or down the mines; he chose the latter, first in Scotland and then in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. His overriding desire to become British enabled him to settle quickly, aided by his marriage to Elsie Bould, a factory worker he met in 1952 in a cinema queue.

Joe became a working-class northerner with a distinctive Polish-Yorkshire accent peppered with the use of “love”. He found camaraderie with his fellow miners and retired as a deputy – similar to a foreman – at Sharlston colliery near Wakefield in 1986.

He spent a happy retirement with Elsie, driving around England and Scotland and holidaying in Europe. He also took up crown green bowling (he won many trophies), loved listening to brass bands, was a member of the local working men’s club and an active member of the Labour party. By the time of his death he had become more British than Polish, although he always preferred to be thought of as a Yorkshireman. However, he maintained links with his Polish family and in 1976, when he felt it safe to do so, visited them in Poland.

Elsie died in 2010. He is survived by me and my brother, Michael, three granddaughters, a great-granddaughter and two sisters.

Anne Dyrlaga

The GuardianTramp

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