He died in the Battle for Stanley on Christmas Day 1941. The story of his role in the battle and his unrelenting gallantry and leadership under fire is extraordinary. I first saw a reference to his outstanding conduct in the Battle for Hong Kong in a book called 'Escape to Fight on' by John Whitehead who had served as a Gunner in Hong Kong and had escaped from POW Camp to fight on in China.
There was only one award of a Victoria Cross in Hong Kong which went to Sgt. Major Osborn of the Winnipeg Grenadiers for an act of self sacrifice and his leadership in battle. However Major Forsyth commanding troops at Stanley Village and commanding officer of No 2 Coy HKVDC was recommended for a posthumous award of the VC by his Battalion Commander Brigadier Wallis with the full support of Major General Malltby, General Officer Commanding British troops in China. This was not to be and instead he was awarded a posthumous Mention in Despatches (MiD). In the period during and immediately following the war there were so many cases of gallantry that it was harder to earn the VC. The numbers of such awards had to be limited so as to maintain its special status. Accordingly the bar was simply moved higher.
In war there are many cases of unrecognized gallantry and unsung heroes and one such case was that of John Bullen.
His act of bravery and self sacrifice was largely unknown because he was killed in action along with most of his men but one or two survived. One was Private George Cottrell another was Private Ernest Stevens both were Prison Officers at Stanley Prison in Hong Kong before the war and like many of their colleagues they both served in the Stanley Platoon of the HKVDC.
The story came to light in 1954 when George Cottrell left the Prison Service and returned to the Wirral near Liverpool. He took up employment as a civilian with a Territorial Army unit 493 (Wirral) Mixed Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment based at Birkenhead. On being interviewed by Major S.L. Wilson the Commanding Officer, Cottrell answered questions about his employment in Hong Kong and his military service in the Battle for Hong Kong and he related the story of the Battle for Stanley and John Bullen's extraordinary role and conduct. A witness statement was made by George Cottrell and later corroborated by statements from Ernest Stevens and Captain Martin Weedon commanding 'B' and 'D' Coy of the 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment at the Battle for Stanley. A report was made to the War Office and consideration was made to awarding him a posthumous Victoria Cross. The rather grainy photograph below shows L/Bdr Bullen and is taken from a clipping from the Liverpool Echo dated 24th September 1954.
|Clipping from Liverpool Echo 24th Sept. 1954|
(National Archives, Kew WO 32/16604)
|Diagram of Battle at Stanley Village - (National Archives, Kew WO 32/16604)|
He died on Christmas Day aged 23-years old. He never stopped fighting. A incredible story of extraordinary courage. He was performing one heroic deed after another, recapturing the gun, knocking out two tanks, rescuing the wounded and bringing them back to safety one after the other whilst under fire and then finally single-handedly attacking the Japanese machine gun position. He was a leader who looked after his men, inspired them with his bravery and coolness under fire. None of this was recognized until 1955 and even today not much is known about this brave young man who gave his life so heroically in the battle for Hong Kong. There is no tablet, no memorial stone to his courage.