Sir Douglas Bader

Born: 21 February 1910 – St John’s Wood, London

Died: 5 September 1982 (aged 72) – Chiswick, London

Occupation: Royal Air Force (RAF) Fighter Pilot

Challenges overcome: Amputee

Successes, Achievements & Awards:

Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader was born in St John’s Wood London in 1910. A natural born flyer, Bader joined the RAF in 1928 and was first commissioned as a pilot in 1930. He was noted as being determined, fearless and eager for a challenge but struggled with his authority figures.

He joined the RAF’s V Squadron in 1931, but was forced to leave that year due to his accident resulting in the loss of his legs. As he was unable to fly and was out of the RAF, Douglas gained an office job with Shell, known then as Asiatic Petroleum Company and married his wife, Thelma Edwards, in 1933.

In 1937, Bader began repeatedly requesting work from the Air Ministry but was only ever offered ground jobs. After two years with no luck, Air Vice Marshall Hallahan, a friend of Bader’s from the RAF, personally endorsed Bader and had him assessed at the Central Flying School Up Avon. In October 1939, Bader had flight tests and passed his medical allowing him to fly again.

Bader became the commander of squadron 242 and their first battle was the famous Battle of Britain. His squadron also took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Douglas became a wing commander and was also one of the first wing leaders. Douglas Bader became famous for the Big Wing Formation in aerial flights. In total, Bader had 62 aerial victories and received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

His last combat battle was in 1941 when he crashed whilst fighting the Germans. He was captured as a prisoner of war but was treated well due to his rank and achievements. German flyer Ace Adolf Gallhand even got Britain to send Douglas Bader a new leg to replace one he had lost in the crash. Douglas Bader made several escape attempts and was successful a few times but was always recaptured. He was eventually moved to ‘escape-proof’ Castle Kolditz because he was irritating the Germans so much by constantly attempting to leave. They also threatened to take away his legs so he could not attempt any more escapes. He stayed at Castle Kolditz until 1945 when he was freed by US troops.
Upon his return to the RAF, Douglas Bader was honoured with a victory flypast. Noticing changes in the RAF, and being criticised by other squadron leaders as ‘outdated’, Douglas lost his enthusiasm for the RAF and retired in 1946.

Retiring from the RAF, Douglas had a brief career as a MP in the house of commons before moving back to work for Shell as their manager of Shell Aircraft before retiring in 1969.

He was known for travelling the world, often with his wife and becoming an after-dinner speaker on aviation issues.

He was appointed a CBE in 1956 for his work for the disabled and was knighted in 1976 for his service to the public and disabled. He became an honorary fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society (FRAeS), and had an honorary DSc of Queen’s University, Belfast in 1976, and became Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London in 1977.

In June 1976 Bader was knighted for his services to disabled people.

He died of a heart attack whilst on his way home from speaking at a dinner in September 1982.

Challenges Overcome

Douglas Bader was twenty-one when on 14th December 1931 he crashed on Woodley airfield, near Reading. Both legs had to be amputated in the Royal Berkshire Hospital, where his life was saved. He was later transferred to the RAF Hospital of Uxbridge.

Douglas Bader refused to use crutches or sticks to help himself walk on his new artificial legs and smashed the doctor’s expectations of a six-month recovery by becoming able in just six weeks. He was soon able to walk, dance and drive in a specially modified car.

Disability Definitions

Amputation is the removal of a body extremity by trauma or surgery. As a surgical measure, it is used to control pain or a disease process in the affected limb, such as malignancy or gangrene.

A large proportion of amputees experience the phenomenon of phantom limbs, they feel body parts that are no longer there. These limbs can itch, ache, and feel as if they are moving. Some scientists believe it has to do with a kind of neural map that the brain has of the body, which sends information to the rest of the brain about limbs regardless of their existence.


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Information sources:

Please click on the information links below to find out more.

Douglas Bader. (2015, March 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13:25, April 2, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Douglas_Bader&oldid=651795685

P. B. Lucas, ‘Bader, Sir Douglas Robert Steuart (1910–1982)’, rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2011 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30780, accessed 28 July 2015] Please note that you will require library subscription or a library card to access the content on this site.

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