Saturday, March 14, 2009

Featured Pipe Smoker: Douglas Bader

Douglas Bader (1910-1982)

Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader was born in London. He was a pilot and a very good rugby player. In 1928 he joined the Royal Air Force. While attempting some stunt flying in 1931, he crashed his plane during some low-altitude aerobatics. As a result, both his legs were amputated, one just above and one just below the knees. He was still able to fly with artificial legs, but he was invalided out of the RAF anyway.

When war broke out in 1939, he used his connections within the RAF to be reinstated as a pilot. He became Flight Commander of a Spitfire squadron. By August 1941, he claimed 22 German planes shot down, which was the fifth highest score in the RAF. In that same month, he was shot down and taken prisoner. Although he insisted that his crash was due to a mid-air collision with a ME-109, later evidence indicated that he had indeed been shot down, perhaps to a German plane, or perhaps even to friendly fire. He was almost not able to bail out because one of his artificial legs became trapped, and he was able to escape only when its straps broke.

Although a prisoner of war, he was treated with respect because of his piloting skills. Britain was notified regarding his damaged leg, and a British bomber was allowed safe passage over the area so it could parachute-drop a new leg.

He attempted to escape many times, and proved so troublesome for the Germans that they threatened to take away his legs. Eventually he was moved to the inescapable Colditz Prison, where he remained until the end of the war.

After the war he became an avid and skilled golfer, and also became involved in politics. He supported apartheid, and his associations with some on the extreme right of British politics led many to believe he was a closet extremist and racist himself.

He was knighted in 1976 for his services to amputees and his advocacy for the disabled. He died of a heart attack in 1982 after a golf tournament.

His prosthetic legs are on display at the RAF Museum at Stafford.

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