Douglas Bader was born in 1910 in St Johns Wood, North West London.
His father died of complications to wounds in 1922, that he had suffered whilst serving in the Royal Engineers during World War One.
He attended the same school as Guy Gibson, who would later become the renowned RAF Dambuster pilot. He also got into a fight with Laurence Olivier, who became a world famous actor, during a school cricket match. He went on to play rugby for the Harlequins.
His first solo flight was in 1929, when he was an officer cadet training at RAF Cranwell.
In 1931 he had both legs amputated after crashing his plane, as he was training for an air show. He was attempting a low flying manouvere and his wing tip hit the ground, resulting in the plane cartwheeling across the ground. He nearly died due to blood loss, but survived thanks to those at the scene and also the surgeon who amputated his legs.
Douglas Bader was given prosthetic legs and with great determination learnt to dance again and drive a specially adapted car. On the outbreak of WWII he convinced the RAF that he could fly again.
In May 1940, Bader took part in assisting the Dunkirk evacuation with air defence, an often overlooked feature of the story of Dunkirk. He shot down two German planes, a Heinkel and Messerschmitt. Soon after, he was transferred from 222 Squadron and promoted to lead 242 Squadron, based at RAF Duxford, which he led throughout the Battle of Britain.
The battle officially began on the 10th July and the next day Bader shot down his first enemy plane of the battle. On the 30th August 1940 his squadron downed 10 Luftwaffe planes, and Bader himself shot down 2. Bader was in the thick of the air war throughout, and was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) for his leadership on the 14th September, the 15th is now known as Battle of Britain day, which is considered the final day of this momentous event in British history.
His three golden rules whilst in air battles were;
If you had the height, you controlled the battle.
If you came out of the sun, the enemy could not see you.
If you held your fire until you were very close, you seldom missed.
In March 1941 he was promoted to Wing Leader and was in charge of three squadrons based at RAF Tangmere, 145, 610 and 616. Throughout the summer of 1941, the RAF continued engaging the Luftwaffe over the English Channel and northern France. Bader was successful in downing more enemy aircraft on 62 missions.
In August 1941 his Spitfire was downed and he had to bail out, landing in field without his prothetic legs, the Germans contacted Britain and arranged for the RAF to drop of a replacement for him.
Whilst recovering in a French hospital he attempted to escape with the help of a nurse who had agreed to help him. The plan was for him to take refuge in a local farm until British agents could arrange to help him return to England. It intially worked as he made it to the farm one evening. However, another worker at the hospital knew of the plans and informed on them. The nurse and the couple at the farm who had agreed to hide him were sent to Germany to do forced labour. They survived this terrible experience. At the end of the war in peacetime France, the informer was arrested and put in prison for 20 years.
Douglas Bader was taken to a POW camp, and often tried to escape. He was successful whilst being held at Stalag Luft III, but was later picked up. He was finally transfered to Colditz Castle, where persistant escapers were sent. He saw it as his duty to be as much of a pain to the Germans as possible. The castle was liberated by the U.S Army in 1945.
He was given the honour of leading the flypast of 300 planes over London during Victory celebrations in 1945. He had been mentioned in despatches, held a DFC & bar and a DSO & bar for his bravery.
After the war he worked for Shell Petroleum, and became chairman of their aircraft section, with his own plane, he flew across the world visiting Shell sites.
In the 1960s in a TV interview he expressed a wish to be Prime Minister, he said some of his policies would include;
Withdraw sanctions from Rhodesia.
Stop immigration into Britain immediately
Reintroduce the death penalty for murder.
Ban betting shops.
He was a staunch support of Ian Smith in Rhodesia and in South Africa claimed if he had been in Rhodesia when they declared UDI, he would have seriously considered changing his citizenship.
In 1976 he was knighted for his services to disabled people.
He died in 1982 of a heart attack on the way home from a tribute dinner for Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, held at the Guildhall in London.
The Douglas Bader Foundation was set up in his memory to assist disabled people live their lives to the full just as Douglas Bader had. It continues to this day.