Paul Bullard

Painter, teacher and also a writer, as occasion arose, Paul Bullard was born in London in 1918. In his youth, he attended the Clapham School of Art. In 1940, he served in the army in Libya until 1942, when he was captured and deported to Italy, first at PG 66 Capua, and later in Le Marche, at PG 53 Sforzacosta, in the municipality of Macerata.

It was while in Le Marche that Bullard and his companions received the news of the Armistice, an opportunity that allowed him to escape from the camp in which he was detained and to venture into the Marche countryside. It was in this context that his adventure in Italy began, a period that included his discovery of the peasant world, its customs and traditions, and his observations of contact and cultural exchanges with the local population.

Bullard’s arrival in the Picacchi district, in the municipality of Gualdo (MC), where the Cardarelli and the Di Luca families lived, came about almost entirely by chance. Bullard, following his escape from PG 53 Sforzacosta,[1] and despite the disorientation caused by finding himself in the unfamiliar Marche countryside, nevertheless tried to follow an escape route which, to his thinking, would lead him to the Allied troops who had landed in the South.

By 15 September many of the Italian guards were beginning to desert and at about four o’clock in the afternoon we left by a back gate, ignoring a guard on a watchtower who waved at us to return, but lacked the confidence to point his gun[2] [… ] The important thing was for us to keep out of the way; the need for a hard march south seemed less important. We were walking through a landscape of cultivated hillsides and steep river valleys, perhaps a little weirder than the idealised Tuscan landscapes of Florentine paintings, but very like them in that there was always at least one hill-top town somewhere in view.[3]

However, the path did not follow a linear trend, and soon the continuous, disoriented wandering without a goal forced Bullard to stop. It so happened that, at that moment, he was in the vicinity of the two families where he and some of his companions would live for the following six months, approximately from October 1943 to April 1944.

Near the lower end, where the track forked, stood our ruined house; to the left the track continued down to the Cardarelli, where we had called a few days before; the right fork went to another house about the same distance away, which we were to learn was that of the Di Luca. There were no more houses lower down that side of the valley; tracks and footpaths continued through small steep fields and woods for another half mile or so, eventually petering out at the river. We were not of course yet aware of these geographical details, but it did seem to be a quiet and relatively safe area.[4]

Soon the escapers began their life in contact with the local population and their host families. They discovered and learnt the agricultural practices most in vogue at that time in those areas, such as the grape harvest (vendemmia). This offered Bullard and his companions a rich opportunity to get to know the peasant world and its customs. Bullard and some of his companions, who lived with the same Italian families, were gradually employed to carry out rural work, which enabled them to be helpful and to contribute to their well-being and that of the host families. Incorporation within the family and above all, the working environment, thereby strengthening the agricultural workforce, provided the ideal means for the English fugitives to face a totally different world.

Of great importance was the wine cultivation process, which was the first of a long series of novelties for Bullard during his stay in the Picacchi district. Several times, he expresses astonishment at the ways and methods of the peasants’ work.

The heat made our work in the fields quite hard, but there was an agreeable novelty about everything, and this kept us amused, while we amused the Italians by our amazing ignorance of the simple procedures which they had known since infancy. A midday meal was brought down into the fields and there was a big supper back at the house. We got a slightly false impression of their normal standard of life[5]

Although the heat made working conditions in the fields harder, the British remained cheerful, thanks to the novelty of their situation and the constant discoveries they made while working in the fields. Counter-balancing this, as Bullard says, was the amusement registered by the Italians, who found the Englishmen’s complete ignorance of agricultural practices equally funny.

An example of this typically English attitude of amazement and bewilderment in the face of the  Italian peasants’ conduct in some situations was when an earthquake struck the area. Bullard recorded the locals’ reaction to it:

Admittedly, the tremor turned out to have been quite a small one, but there was some damage in the district and at the Cardarelli a big crack had appeared in the stone wall of their cart-shed. Such tremors were not exactly common, but the locals were sufficiently aware of the danger for them to be prepared to rush out into the open air at the first sign or sound of movement. The more stable geology of the British Isles had not attuned us to this possibility; although we had a slight tremor when we were in the prison camp, there too, it had all been over before we realised what had happened.[6]

Undoubtedly, the speed with which all the peasants abandoned their duties to flee outside the house, shouting and showing great anguish, left Bullard speechless. Bullard claimed that he found himself staring into the eyes of his companion, Norman, in astonishment at the sudden escape of Amilcare and Bastiano from inside a trough.

Another bizarre aspect of the relationship between the peasants and the Englishmen was in observing that the Di Luca and Cardarelli families had differing habits and temperaments, despite leading very similar lifestyles. At the same time, it was curious, in Bullard’s eyes, that these differing habits were also to some extent assumed by their respective English guests.

From then on – it was 20th October – we were integrated into our respective families. Although their ways of life were so similar, there were marked differences in the character of the two neighbouring families and, although it seems fanciful, the English members – selected quite by chance – seemed in some ways to share their characteristics. Perhaps we just grew to resemble each other in the same way that pets and their owners are supposed to become alike.[7]

This assimilation of the host family’s characteristics perfectly expresses the sealing of the emotional and friendly partnership between the Italians and the English, which, in most cases, amounted to adoption of the ex-prisoners by their host families. The English thus became part of the families, assuming their characteristics, customs, and traditions as if they had always been their own.

Further details about the family environment in which Paul Ballard lived are contained in his description of the appearance of the house and other components of the Cardarelli family’s property:

In general, life was a good deal more primitive than even the most backward areas of pre-war England, although I expect it was not unlike the remoter parts of Scotland or Ireland. There was no sanitation of any sort, not even an earth privy, and everyone used the fields or – in bad weather – the stable.[8]

The general impression of peasant life was of backwardness, which, according to Bullard, was not comparable even with the most backward areas of England before the conflict. In particular, the most evident sign of backwardness was the absence of sanitation, especially regarding the use of toilets. In the absence of these, people used the fields to fulfil their physiological needs. Bullard also reported backwardness in the organisation of peasant work, especially in the type of contract stipulated between peasants and landowners.

The house and land all belonged to the landlord and was held on an annual basis with the rent being paid in kind: half the produce of the main crops, plus fixed quantities of such things as poultry and eggs. There was also an obligation to provide several man-days of labour for such jobs as repairing the communal road. Not quite a feudal system, as the tenant was not legally bound and was free to leave – but on the other hand he had no security of tenure either.[9]

The head of the Cardarelli family was Vivenzio, a man in his sixties who, despite hardly ever showing optimism, enjoyed an incontestable authority among the family members. The possibility of admitting ex-prisoners to the house depended on him; therefore, Bullard reports, it was precisely Vivenzio who invited him to the house.

He had invited us into his house and his courtesy and thoughtful treatment of us set the tone for the others. I cannot now remember exactly how long we slept in the stable, but it was probably no more than a fortnight before a trestle bed was set up for us in what had been another storeroom. “We had joined the family. For our part we tried to make it clear that, in spite of our hopeless lack of competence, we would do what we could to earn our keep.[10]

The narration of the passing of the seasons goes hand in hand with the progressive integration of Bullard within the communal life of the Cardarelli family. Each season had specific tasks to perform; thus, the action-packed farm life offered Bullard and his companions the opportunity to be constantly busy with some task or other:

Hoop and I slipped gently into the everyday routine. It wasn’t the most demanding time of the year; the grapes had been the last of the season’s produce to be harvested; the ploughing had been mostly finished and we helped hoe those awkward bits of land where the oxen could not easily operate. Nevertheless, everyone always seemed busy, often on tasks which would have astonished an English farmer.[11]

Participation in agricultural life is an element of fundamental importance in the story of Paul Bullard. Carrying out agricultural activities with the family members was an important opportunity for sharing and socialising. In the six months of his stay among the Cardarelli family, this led to a genuine partnership between him and his hosts.

At the end of their stay in the Picacchi district, Bullard and his companions stopped briefly with the Lucarelli family in Cerreto D’Esi (AN). It was there that Paul Bullard’s wartime experience in Lee Marche came to an end. In fact, in 1944, the town was soon liberated from the Nazi-Fascists, thanks also to the arrival of Allied troops from the south.

Campi legati a questa storia



[1] Detail set-out in the manuscript owned by MSMT foundation.

[2] Bullard, Paul, Time off in the Marche, Chapter 1 – Finding our way, https://paulbullard.wordpress.com/time-off-in-the-marche-1943-44/chapter-1/

[3] Ibidem

[4] Bullard, Paul, Time off in the Marche, Chapter 2 – Picacchi and the grape harvest, https://paulbullard.wordpress.com/time-off-in-the-marche-1943-44/chapter-2/

[5] Ibidem

[6] Ibidem

[7] Ibidem

[8] Bullard, Paul, Time off in the Marche, Chapter 3 – The Cardarelli farm, https://paulbullard.wordpress.com/time-off-in-the-marche-1943-44/chapter-3-the-cardarelli-farm/

[9] Ibidem

[10] ibidem

[11] Bullard, Paul, Time off in the Marche, Chapter 4- Everyday life on the Cardarelli farm, https://paulbullard.wordpress.com/time-off-in-the-marche-1943-44/chapter-4-everyday-life-on-the-cardarelli-farm/