Birthday: February 21, 1910
Died At Age: 72
Sun Sign: Pisces
Also Known As: Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader
Born in: St John's Wood, London
Famous as: Royal Air Force Pilot During World War II
Spouse/Ex-: Joan Murray (m. 1973 – 1982), Thelma Edwards (m. 1933 – 1971)
father: Frederick Roberts Bader
mother: Jessie Scott MacKenzie
Died on: September 5, 1982
place of death: Chiswick, London
City: London, England
education: Royal Air Force College Cranwell, St Edward's School, Oxford
awards: Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Douglas Bader was a ‘Royal Air Force’ (RAF) flying ace during the Second World War and had 22 aerial victories to his credit. Douglas was born and raised in London and began exhibiting “nerves of steel” during his school years. He excelled in sports such as rugby and cricket and had an extremely aggressive nature. In 1928, Douglas joined the ‘RAF’ as an officer cadet. He took his first flight in September 1928. However, in December 1931, he lost both his legs in a plane crash. He was then fitted with artificial legs. However, he recovered and took to flying again. In spite of this, he was suspended from the ‘RAF’ owing to the military rules. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 resulted in him being accepted as a pilot yet again. He scored his first war victory in 1940, during the Dunkirk incident and participated in the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain. In August 1941, while flying over France, which was occupied by the Germans at that time, he was captured by the Germans. Following multiple failed attempts to escape, he was eventually sent to ‘Colditz Castle’ as a prisoner of war. He was kept there until 1945, when the ‘First United States Army’ rescued the war prisoners. He retired from the ‘RAF’ after the war came to an end. He died at the age of 72.
Childhood & Early Life
Douglas Bader was born Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, on February 21, 1910, in St John’s Wood, London. His father, Frederick Roberts Bader, was a civil engineer, and his mother, Jessie Scott MacKenzie, was a housewife. Douglas was the second child in the family and had an elder brother.
His father, Frederick, worked in India. Following the birth of Douglas, he took his wife and older son with him to India, leaving Douglas with his relatives in the Isle of Man. Douglas joined his family in India 2 years later. A year after this, the family moved back to London and settled in Kew.
In 1917, Douglas’s father participated in the First World War as one of the ‘Royal Engineers’ and was injured. He succumbed to his injuries in 1922. His mother remarried, but his stepfather did not treat Douglas nicely. His mother, too, did not take proper care of her young son. Thus, he spent most of his teenage years in the care of his grandparents.
Douglas had an extremely aggressive nature as a young kid. During one of his many fights with his older brother, he shot his brother with an air rifle. He was sent to a boarding school named ‘Temple Grove School,’ which was known to be quite strict with its students. As a result, Douglas grew up to become an excessively aggressive teenager.
While he was studying at ‘St. Edward’s School,’ Douglas found an interest in extreme sports. He played rugby and enjoyed confrontations with bigger members of the opposing teams. He also took to playing cricket.
In 1923, Douglas visited one of his aunts who was about to get married to a ‘RAF’ lieutenant. Douglas was impressed by the man and soon developed an interest in becoming a pilot. He was accepted as a cadet in ‘RAF Cranwell’ and then enrolled at the ‘University of Cambridge.’
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Career with the Royal Air Force
In 1930, Douglas was commissioned as an officer in the ‘RAF’ and was posted at ‘RAF Kenley’. He was one of the most able pilots in the squadron and was chosen as one of the pilots who were to perform aerobatics at the ‘RAF Hendon Air Show.’ However, he was also notorious for not following military rules sometimes, which became the cause of a horrendous crash later.
He was engaged in an unauthorized low-flying aerobatics act at ‘Woodley Airfield’ while he was on a visit to the ‘Reading Aero Club’ in December 1931. His plane crashed. Although he survived the crash, he escaped death very narrowly. Both his legs had to be amputated, and he was fitted with artificial tin legs.
He was advised not to fly or indulge in heavy physical activities. However, he started driving cars within a few months. He also started flying planes soon, though unofficially. Although the ‘Central Flying School’ had deemed him to be perfectly able to fly a plane, he was not authorized to fly planes for the ‘RAF.’ He was assigned ground duty, which he declined. Soon, he resigned from the ‘RAF’ and began working at a petroleum company.
Second World War
Despite walking on tin legs, Douglas was never content with the life of an ordinary citizen. The outbreak of the Second World War provided him a chance to reapply for the position as a fighter pilot in the RAF. Although the regulations did not allow that to happen, they were overlooked due to the shortage of pilots at that time. Douglas was thus posted as a commander at the ‘242 Squadron,’ a unit that saw the highest number of casualties during the Battle of France.
Douglas, with his unshakable determination, turned the ‘242 Squadron’ unit into one of the most deadly units of his time. During the Battle of Britain, he was known to question the decisions taken by his superiors frequently.
In 1941, Douglas was promoted to the position of wing commander and was stationed at ‘RAF Tangmere.’ In order to bring Luftwaffe into the fight, he led the ‘Tangmere Wing’ in attacks over north-western Europe. 1941 was the most eventful year of his life, as his skills as a talented pilot were exhibited gloriously in that year.
In 1941, he earned 22 aerial victories, four shared victories, and six probable victories. He also damaged 11 enemy aircrafts singlehandedly. With that, he became the fifth-most-successful fighter pilot in the ‘RAF.’
Between March and August 1941, Douglas had flown 62 fighter sweeps all over the German-occupied France. However, his winning streak ended on August 9 when Douglas’s plane did not return from an operation. It was later revealed that his aircraft was downed near Le Touquet, France.
There have been speculations about how Douglas’s plane went down. While Douglas was sure that a German aircraft had downed him, some ‘RAF’ officers said that the incident was a result of a friendly fire. When his plane was struck, Douglas jumped using a parachute and made a rocky landing, which ended up damaging both his artificial legs badly.
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Capture & Release
Douglas Bader was captured by the German forces upon landing and was taken to a nearby hospital, where both his artificial legs were treated. The Germans were terribly unaware of whom they had taken as a prisoner and did not pay enough attention to the security around him.
With the help of some locals, Douglas escaped from the hospital. He was taken to the house of a local farmer but was betrayed and brought back to the German forces. After he made a few more unsuccessful attempts to escape, the Germans took him to the prisoner-of-war camp at ‘Colditz Castle.’
Even at ‘Colditz,’ Douglas made several attempts to escape and also showed hostility toward his captors by refusing to cooperate. Following the end of the war in 1945, the ‘First Unites States Army’ liberated all war prisoners from ‘Colditz.’ Following his release, Douglas moved to the UK.
Douglas Bader was hailed a hero on his return to the UK and was promoted to the position of group commander. However, he decided to resign from the ‘RAF.’ He then resumed his job in the oil industry.
In 1954, Paul Brickhill wrote a biography of Douglas, ‘Reach for the Sky,’ which was later turned into a film.
In 1973, Douglas wrote his autobiography, ‘Fight for the Sky.’
In his years after the war, he worked extensively for disabled people. In 1976, he received the honor of ‘Knight Bachelor’ for his charitable deeds.
Family & Personal Life
Douglas Bader married Thelma Edwards in October 1937. She was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1967 and died 4 years later, in 1971. Following his first wife’s death, Douglas married Joan Murray in 1973. Douglas did not have any children from either of his marriages.
On September 5, 1982, Douglas attended a dinner party organized in honor of war hero Sir Arthur Harris. He also gave a speech after the dinner. While returning from the party, he had a massive heart attack and passed away.
The ‘Douglas Bader Foundation’ was established after his death. It was meant to carry forward his work for people who had lost their limbs.