Second World War veteran Harry Bullock can remember his time in Italy as if it were yesterday.
“I can remember looking around and it was beautiful. The sky was blue the trees were green and it was like a painting and I thought, this can’t be war, but it was,” Bullock said. “The Germans were only a few miles away.”
Bullock, a 95-year-old British war veteran who is still full of energy, now calls the Long Lake Chateau home. He’s only been there a few days, but he feels at home in Nanaimo.
“I just love it here,” he said.
Bullock’s journey into the British Army began when he was 19 years old. He was hanging out at a cafe in London with some friends when a pretty girl caught his eye.
“I whistled at her as she walked by,” he said. “Well this one, she came back and slapped me in the face and said, ‘my brother is in the army and that’s where you should be’.”
A few days later, Bullock enlisted with the British Army and became an infantryman with the Royal Berkshire Regiment, with which he spent two years training as a marksman.
He later married a British girl while training. Then one day in 1942, Bullock learned that he was transferred to the military police to become a motorcycle dispatch rider.
“My job was to take troops in and out of the line or take messages from one place to another,” he said.
Bullock was also instructed to learn Italian, although he wasn’t told why.
“They gave me a book to learn Italian and they never said why,” Bullock said. “I figured it was just to see if I had got any brains. In the army you don’t ask too many questions or you’d be in trouble.”
In 1943, Bullock was sent off to Italy, where he would ultimately spend time in Sicily, Massina, Venice, Trieste and other Italian towns.
“Being in Italy was kind of an adventure for me,” he said.
He was also involved in the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944, which saw Polish troops defeat the Germans after multiple failed attempts by Allied troops from other countries, including Canada.
“I took the Polish lot in and they took it in one night,” he said. “You could hear them going up the hill shooting two for one, meaning you kill one of us we will kill two of you. That must have scared the Germans away.”
Bullock’s ability to speak Italian allowed him to socialize with Italians and provided him with opportunities that many other troops didn’t get, such as helping a woman in labour find a doctor and allowed him to get out of awkward situations.
“She later named the baby after me,” Bullock said.
Bullock was also often stationed alongside Canadian troops, who he remembers as being “fantastic” soldiers but also heavy drinkers.
“The Canadians were good, they got into the drink a lot.”
While in Italy, Bullock also got blown off his motorcycle numerous times, resulting in head and eye injuries. He recalled a time he was driving down an Italian road when he suddenly heard an explosion.
“I heard this loud boom noise and some poor peasant had stepped on a land mine and I saw him going above the trees with no legs and the next thing I knew I was in the hospital tent because the blast blew me away,” he said.
Bullock was only 25 when the war ended. He immediately returned to the United Kingdom to be with his wife, who was by then 21. In the 1960s, Bullock moved to Canada with his wife and had six children.
“I think I repopulated the country,” he said. “They’re all over the place.”