Shortly before his death in 1996, Paul Bullard started to make a video which was to reflect upon the way that his war-time experiences had shaped his life and, in particular how friendship had emerged between nations as a result of the terrible tragedy of war. Although he never spoke about them much, the experiences that he had had in the Army, in the prison camp and on the Italian farms brought him face to face to face with a wide range of people of backgrounds very different to his own, and he never forgot their friendship. He and his wife Jeanne, and sometimes myself and my brother Nick, kept in contact with the farming community and made visits to them, and even today we are still in touch with some descendants of the family – indeed one member of the family, born the day of a visit by Nick, was named Paolo.
Although I saw some of the video (and even participated in it) during its making, he was never satisfied with it, and appeared to have erased most of it before his death. However, there is a script which was presumably designed to go with it, which I only recently found amongst my mothers’ papers. It is written in the form of a letter to the Italian families, and I’ve included some extracts here.
…It is now more than fifty years since five former English prisoners, straggling their way along the footpaths to avoid the Germans, arrived in Picacchi. We must have seemed a strange group: ragged and dirty and quite unable to understand the Italian language. Yet you welcomed us, sheltered us, fed us, hid us when necessary, and all at great danger to yourselves. In your Christian charity you treated us as if we were members of your own families. This is something about which I have remembered every day since and never more so now that the end of my life comes closer.
…I was born in London during the final year of World War I. My father, like your Vivenzio, had served in the Army as a soldier but was now a civilian again after having been torpedoed whilst on a troopship and spending four hours in the sea, swimming and clinging to wreckage.
…When my brother Jack left school he joined the Royal Air Force, as a volunteer, for we have no compulsory military service in Britain in peacetime. He was very different from me, being very fond of all sports, particularly athletics.
…When I left school a few years later, I went to Art College. My family was not very well off and I did a job in the evenings as an operator in the local telephone exchange! When I was in my second year I noticed a new student who I thought was a very pretty girl indeed and I decided to get to know her.
…The nineteen-thirties were not a good time to be a student with the threat of war always present in the minds of young people.
…A month before the outbreak of the War my family suffered a tragedy from which my mother and father never recovered. My brother Jack was killed in a flying accident. He was pilot in a two-seater fighter with a schoolboy passenger, in formation with other aircraft when he touched wings with the next plane. In those days there were no ejector seats and it was necessary to hook the parachute on to a harness. My brother managed to get the youth out first and he descended safely but he himself was now too late and the parachute too close to the ground to open. For a day or two he was regarded as a hero by the newspapers. My brother had been married the previous year but there were no children. His widow never remarried.
…Then the war did break out and eventually I was called up into the Army. The training was quite long – we none of us had any previous service, remember – but in 1941 my Regiment was sent off to Egypt. It was a long voyage in a very old and uncomfortable troopship as we went completely around Africa in order to avoid the Mediterranean which was too dangerous at that time. This was before either Russia or America were in the war and the only fighting going on was in Greece and in Libya.
…The story of my life as a prisoner has already been told. On my return to England in 1944 Jeanne and I were married, but the War was still not over and it was another year and a half before I was finally discharged.
…Both of us now went back to Art College as our interrupted studies needed a final year to complete. Alan was born soon after we had finished. Of course life was very difficult in all European countries at this time. The destruction in England was perhaps not as great as in many parts of Italy but the five years of heavy German bombing had reduced to rubble many parts of London and of other big cities. We lived, with our new baby, in one room, sharing cooking and bathroom with another family.
…Although of course we exchanged letters with you it was ten years before we could even think of making a visit. We were busy with young children and with me trying to build a career as an artist and teacher. At last we were able to buy our first car – quite a triumph in those days – and in 1957 Jeanne and I, and our two children Alan and Nicholas, set off for Italy, camping on the way to save expense. The sad thing was that we were too late to see Nazarena who had died a few months earlier. Everyone else was still there, and we were overwhelmed by the hospitality and kindness we received from everyone.
…Back home in London we were still very busy during the next few years. Every so often we felt the need to visit ‘our’ Italian families although Jeanne and I now came on our own, our sons beginning to live their own lives.
…Some time later there was a memorable visit to Italy by Nick when he was a student – he arrived unexpectedly at Passo S. Angelo with three companions on the very day on which Flavio’s first son Paolo was born!
…By 1978 our London house had become too large for us, and I decided that it was time to give up teaching and to find somewhere quiet in the country. The house we chose was Shelley, in Stanstead, near Sudbury, Suffolk, where we lived for the next seventeen years. It was a seventeenth century house, old-fashioned but very pretty with a thatched roof. When we bought it had a very neglected garden which Jeanne in particular worked very hard at, making not only a flower garden but a little vegetable patch which was productive enough for our needs. It was only a two hour drive from London which meant that we could still visit theatres, concerts and exhibitions for we remained Londoners at heart. It was also only an half-hour from where Alan and his family were living.
…Our visits to Italy continued and we were pleased to welcome visitors from the Cardarelli and Lucarelli families to England, as well. We were now beginning to get old. I wanted very much to make a further visit to Italy and Jeanne wished to do so too but she found that her arthitis made travelling too uncomfortable. So I came with my son Nick and we were received with the usual hospitality by everyone, including a memorable meal at Stelvio’s with just about every Cardarelli in the world in attendance!
…So, my dear friends, goodbye. May our families continue to flourish in friendship…
This Appendix continues with pictures of several documents:
Firstly several pages of a diary issued by the Catholic Church to prisoners of war in 1942. I’ve reproduced some of the pages in which he has written: firstly some pages of addresses, including the home addresses of some of his fellow prisoners and the addresses of the farms on which he stayed: and then a page with a short diary of events, beginning with his leaving Sforzacosta, various important dates (including visiting Gualdo ‘for grain’) and ending with ‘Meet the ENGLISH’ in San Ginesio. Following a sketch family tree, there is an intriguing page of directions about which I know nothing…
Then, several other documents: a letter and a postcard to his parents from Sforzacosta, and a Pass dated 1946 that must have been issued from wherever he was stationed in the UK before his demobilisation, to allow him to visit his parents in Brookwood. Also a report in the national press about Len Burch and his tin-can clock.
Finally, there are also a number of Paul’s documents in the Second World War Experience Centre in Yorkshire (http://www.war-experience.org). Paul’s widow Jeanne donated some of his material to them, including some sketchbooks, and also recorded a short interview which can be heard on the website.
Thank you for reading…