FEATURE: Remarkable life of Ron - a Lincolnshire hero who on paper doesn't exist to the world
All great stories start at the beginning, but for Ron Bullen that isn't possible.
On paper, he does not exist!
Despite many years searching for answers to his identity, Ron doesn’t know his exact age, where he was born or who his parents are.
No birth certificate has ever been uncovered.
Ask him how old he is and he replies: “I don’t know exactly, but I reckon I’m in my late 80s!”
His is a story worth telling.
There’s a key to some of his achievements with a display of walking medals on a wall.
He doesn’t own much furniture, which is just as well as the room appears to be covered by folders...all containing his memories.
Ron once had many more folders but they were destroyed in a fire.
Others were abandoned when he spent a year of his life living in his car.
The one piece of furniture is a reclining armchair which doubles up as a bed.
After spending so long living in cars and motor-homes, he doesn’t sleep much.
Ron’s earliest memories are when he was four, sleeping under a railway tunnel in Grimsby.
He remembers the police often took him back to Brighowgate Boys’ Home in Grimsby.
“I hated it there,” he says.
He was in the care of social services and, after a limited education, he worked in an ironmongery shop in Louth before volunteering for National Service.
With no birth certificate, he knew he’d never be called up.
He was accepted into the Army, even though he believes there was ‘a good chance’ he wasn’t actually old enough to sign up.
Army life began in 1947.
He says: “Paperwork was always hard but the lads helped me out, no questions asked.”
For the first time in his life, he felt settled, even if one of his first jobs was cleaning boots.
After a brief encounter with Social Services - who tried to take him back into care when he was reported missing - Ron battled through his training and was deployed to Malta and Tripoli.
He was promoted to Lance Corporal.
National service ended for Ron in 1949.
He felt ‘totally lost.’
Trying to adjust to civilian life, Ron shovelled chalk by day and slept in a lorry at night.
But his longing for Army life burned deep.
By 1950, he was back as a professional soldier.
During the next five years, he met and married the ‘love of my life’, Christina Wilson.
There’s a smile on Ron’s face as he says: “We met in Louth, before my training.
“When I went away, I found out that she cried herself to sleep every night. I knew then she was the one.”
Ron left the Army after five years but joined the reserves.
He still missed Army life, so he signed up again, this time for a longer stay.
By 1965, Ron was in the Middle East.
One day, he received an envelope and inside was a photograph of a woman. On the back, it simply read ‘Your Mother.’
Ron was so shocked, he spent several weeks in hospital.
Desperate to find answers, he was granted compassionate leave.
He spent four weeks - and £7,000 - knocking on doors in a desperate attempt to find his past, but failed to find the truth.
Two-years prior to the end of his Army career in 1972, he found solace in endurance walking.
At the age of ‘around 40’, a new chapter of his life began.
Travelling all over Europe, Ron won many medals for walking.
He was even honoured by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands.
Ron wanted to utilise his talent in the best possible way, so he started to raise money for charity.
It was a wise decision. Today, his tally stands at around £1million raised.
He explains: “I felt passionate about helping children and the disabled.
“One day, I walked past a girl who looked to have trouble with her arm, I asked if I could help and enough money was raised to get her a bionic arm.”
Between 1986-1987, he earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
He walked to every lifeboat station in the UK over 313 days, covering 7,047 miles.
Even a pine needle lodging in his eye - which nearly cost him his sight - couldn’t stop him.
His record breaking efforts were acknowledged by Margaret Thatcher who wrote to congratulate him.
Retirement should have meant a restful time, especially after so many years of service to Queen and Country.
Unfortunately, Ron spent the whole of 2015 living in his car.
He wasn’t entitled to benefits.
Home was an old Vauxhall car. He had to burn many of his cherished possessions.
Eventually, he found support from homeless charity ECHO.
Thanks to them, he now has a place live.
So, what’s next for Ron Bullen?
He’s writing his life story, even though so many questions are unanswered.
He explains: “I have never properly celebrated a birthday. I still do not know my true age but I am here and I do exist. I don’t need a piece of paper to prove who I am!”