Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Bull, Joseph Nugent Palmer (1908–1940)

by Judith Keene

This article was published:

Joseph Nugent Palmer Bull (1908-1940), undertaker and 'bridegroom of death', was born on 3 April 1908 at Newtown, Sydney, fourth son and youngest child of native-born William Nugent Bull, undertaker, and his Dublin-born wife Mary, née Palmer. Educated at the Marist Brothers' High School, Darlinghurst, and St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, young Nugent was strongly influenced by Brother Gerard, a Marist teacher prominent in Sydney Catholic intellectual circles. An extrovert at school, Nugent was an excellent cricketer. After matriculating in 1926 he joined the family firm W. N. Bull Pty Ltd at Newtown. Later he worked in the accounts department at Luna Park and for the Mansion Hotel group. He remained active in St Joseph's literary and debating society, Newtown, the Campion Society and St Joseph's College Old Boys' Union and often attended the Domain, supporting Catholic speakers and heckling socialists.

Some Australian Catholics had a long attachment to Spain. From 1931 they followed closely the establishment of the second Spanish republic; the dismantling of church schools there was critically reported in the Catholic Freeman's Journal and similar newspapers. Determined to defend his faith and volunteer with General Franco's forces, Bull resigned his job in July 1937, travelled to Spain via the Vatican and enlisted in the Spanish Foreign Legion on 16 October at Talavera de la Reina.

Bull was the only Australian to fight for the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War. Knowing no Spanish, he was placed with French volunteers in the Joan of Arc bandera where he drew on his schoolboy French. The legion's hymn, 'We are the Bridegrooms of Death', was sung each day on the parade ground. Bull was wounded in the battle for Teruel at the end of 1937 when both sides slogged through heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures. Having sustained a serious knee injury and no longer fit for infantry duty, he transferred into the transport division, where he drove the trucks which maintained supply lines to the front. After Franco's victory, Bull was demobilized on 17 July 1939 and made his way, via Lourdes in France, to London.

On the outbreak of World War II as Nugent Joseph Bull he enlisted in the Royal Air Force and was posted to No.149 Squadron. Trained as an air-gunner, Sergeant Bull flew what he described in letters home as 'cracker' raids over Germany, bombing factories that had provided arms for Franco's forces. On 9 September 1940, soon after midnight and having just left the English coast for Boulogne Harbour, his aircraft was struck by a severe electrical storm and, with an engine in flames, was abandoned. One pilot managed to reach the English coast safely and the bodies of two of the crew were later recovered from the sea. Despite several false alarms, which raised the family's hopes that he had been seen in a French prisoner-of-war camp, Bull was eventually declared missing, presumed dead.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Keene, Fighting for Franco (NY, 2001)
  • J. Keene, ‘An Antipodean Bridegroom of Death: An Australian with Franco’s Forces in the Spanish Civil War’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 70, no 4, Apr 1985, p 251
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Judith Keene, 'Bull, Joseph Nugent Palmer (1908–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 September 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]


3 April, 1908
Newtown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


9 September, 1940 (aged 32)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.