For one Nanaimo veteran, the war years were quite a ride.
Harry Bullock, who turned 98 this week, is one of a small number of local veterans who served in the Second World War. Much of his service came during the Italian campaign toward the end of the war, as he served as a military policeman and dispatch rider, traversing “dodgy” mountain roads on his motorbike, often alone.
He got blown of his bike a few times, he said, and he wasn’t the only soldier to have falls. Once, travelling in the mountains, he came across soldiers helping another rider who was falling off the edge of a peak.
“He was still hanging on and other men were holding his arm. I was a big, strong lad, I got his arm, I thought I could just pull him up, but I couldn’t; he was pulling me and I looked – he’s still holding onto his motorbike which weighs about 800 pounds,” Bullock said. “They caught my legs and pulled me and I pulled him and brought him up and his motorbike went rolling down the mountain.”
Bullock was born in London with no family, raised in a boarding school in Middlesex. He enlisted in the military at age 19.
“I joined because a girl slapped me around the face, told me her brother was in the army and I was a coward,” he said.
He joined the Royal Berkshire Regiment’s C Company and was stationed in Northern Ireland for about two years, marrying there. He parted ways with his company when he was transferred back to England where he trained as a military policeman and began learning Italian. After about three months, he was sent to Glasgow and eventually landed in Italy, passing through Augusta and Syracuse in Sicily, then to Cassino on the mainland, the Battle of Anzio in which the Allies captured Rome, up to Venice and countless other points in and around those regions.
As a dispatch rider, he was in contact with different Allied forces in the Italian campaign. Bullock says he was right there in Sicily and witnessed a famous incident where U.S. Gen. George S. Patton ordered that a mule cart that was holding up a convoy be pushed off a bridge. He remembers Polish soldiers at Monte Cassino shouting, in song, about “two for one,” meaning they intended to kill two Germans for every soldier they lost.
“I’d get orders to go to a certain spot, see the commander and give him the [dispatch],” Bullock said. “It was probably to say, you’re moving in tomorrow night … and this man will show you the way. I would be there and take them up to the line.”
Sometimes the Germans seemed to know when the British forces were moving to a new position, “and they’d start to bomb and shell you and I was [blown] off my bike because of the concussion of a shell, say, 20 yards away.”
The last time he was blown from his bike, it burst his eardrum and crossed his eye, among other injuries. But others with whom he served didn’t survive the war.
Once, while riding his motorbike in the mountains, a truck passed by, and he heard shouts of “Hello Harry, hello Harry, how are you doing?” and realized it was Royal Berkshire Regiment’s C Company, his old mates. He couldn’t keep up with them on the bumpy, shelled roads, though, and fell back, promising to meet up in the morning.
When he caught up, though, he found three fellows in a tin shed, asked where the rest of the company was, and learned almost all of them were dead. The company had come to a field, spread out ranks, and had been cut down by two German machine guns.
The Italian campaign ended in the spring of 1945 after nearly two years of fighting. Bullock and others were expecting to move to the Pacific War, but then the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and instead, Bullock returned to his new home of Northern Ireland and his wife.
He became a baker, first in Northern Ireland and then in Burnaby, after he and his wife moved to Canada in the ’60s. Bullock lived in Parksville, and is now in Nanaimo, happy, he says, at Longlake Chateau.
He knows, and felt himself, the losses of those who died in the war, but at the same time, for a young man who had been alone, the war gave him something he hadn’t had.
“I was glad to join the army…” he said. “I was happy. I had a motorbike, I had a gun, I was in charge.”