The Headlines on this Day…

Monday 7th of December 1914

King George Meets King Albert and Reviews Belgium Soldiers

King George Visits the Troops

King George’s historic visit to his soldiers is at an end, and his majesty is back in London. Regardless of all personal danger, he visited trenches while shells were bursting but a little distance away. “That is all the more reason I should go among my soldiers. There is no reason why I should not take risks, they take them” he said when told it might not be safe.  

He paid special honour to the brave Belgians by reviewing a number of King Alberts Soldiers.

Tuesday 7th of December 1915

Russia to Attack Bulgaria? Our Allies Marching to the Danube Across the Snows

Russian Troops

A telegram received yesterday states that the Tsar has telegraphed to M Pasitch, the Serbian Premier, saying that he will not tolerate the disappearance of Serbia, or the loss of her independence. “Russia” added his majesty, “has already made her plans to save Serbia.”

Russian troops are marching to the Danube, where large forces are now being concentrated, and Cossacks are operating in the Caucasus, where the snow in places is 10ft deep!

Thursday 7th of December 1916

Mr Lloyd George to be Premier: War Secretary Accepts Office After Mr Bonar Law Had Declined

David Lloyd George

Mr Lloyd George is to be Premier, and the nation has got the man it wanted. Rumours, statements, official and otherwise, were afloat yesterday, and the news changed every hour. But later came really definite news from the Press Bureau that Mr Lloyd George had consented to form a cabinet in co-operation with Mr Bonar Law. Thus ends the great political crisis. What the nation owes to him for organising our factories at the time of the shell shortage is now history. As Minister of Munitions he has organised our vast resources for what has proved a war of machinery. The employment of women labour has been an unqualified success.

Friday 7th of December 1917

Two Gothas Downed and the Six Occupants Captured

German Gotha Heavy Bomber

Two of the Gothas that raided England are not returning to Germany, and neither are the crews, who will sojourn in England pro tem. One of the captured pilots, who is 6ft. 4in. in height, is said to be only sixteen years of age. Never have the raiders arrived at such an awkward hour, but Londoners who were aroused from their slumbers at a time when the lark is alleged to be astir, were uniformly cheerful and cracked jokes, invariably uncomplimentary to Fritz and his habits.

Saturday 7th of December 1940

Nazi Pirate Chased

HMS Carnarvon Castle

A fast, heavily armed German raider, disguised as a merchantman, has been located, fought, and chased in the South Atlantic Ocean by a British armed merchant cruiser. The news was revealed yesterday in an admiralty communique, which said that the British ship, HMS Carnarvon Castle, was in action Thursday with the German in the South Atlantic.

It is understood in London that the scene of the action was about 700 miles north-east of Montevideo, the South-American port outside which the Graf Spee was scuttled.

The Carnarvon Castle is expected to reach Montevideo on Monday, apparently seeking repairs. The Uruguayan Government have granted permission for her to enter.

Sunday 7th of December 1941

Germans in Retreat

Cossacks Smash von Kleist

Russian Cossack Cavalry

Von Kleist’s attempt to make a stand outside Taganrog was smashed yesterday by the army of General Remizov.

Russian troops swept down the plain of Taganrog as the Germans again fled along the road towards Mariupol.

While German tanks are bogged up in mud and slush, Cossack cavalry waiting for just this moment have flung themselves upon the retreating Nazis with all their fury. One section of them is riding hard along the coast, cutting off small bodies of Germans and wiping them out.

Other sections of Cossacks are sweeping down from the north-east. They have crossed the river Miuss, where the Germans were preparing a new defence line, and are rushing down to coast behind to off the main line of retreat.

Monday 7th of December 1942

RAF Beat Weather, Bomb Rhine Centres

Nine of Strong Force Missing

South-west Germany was the target last night for a strong force of Royal Air Force Bombers. Karlsruhe, important traffic, and industrial centre, was the RAF’s main target, states the German News Agency. The adjoining town of Iffezheim, 20 miles to the south-east, was also raided.

Bad weather made observation of the results impossible. It is officially stated that nine of our bombers are missing, but two enemy fighters were destroyed.

25th of October – On this Day Special

World War 1

25th of October 1917

VC Hero at Passchendaele


The third battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) is now into a third month. The British currently hold Hill 60, a spoil heap on the Ypres-Comines railway. It was during this battle that 2nd Lieutenant Hugh Colvin from Burnley Earned his Victoria Cross. Colvin started his military career as a Private in the 8th (Royal Irish) Hussars serving in India and retired from the Army as a Major having earned his commission on the battlefield in 1917. He was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion the Cheshire Regiment, and attached to the 9th Battalion in which he won his V.C. for taking command of two companies when their commanding officers were killed and leading them in an assault against German machine gun posts under heavy fire.

World War 2

25th of October 1940

RAF Coastal Blitz

AVRO Manchester

RAF bombers swept the coast of occupied France in the biggest blitz to date. Aircraft were over occupied France for more than an hour protecting a convoy from German long range guns. At the same time, German Aircraft attacked the convoy, and the escorting ships opened up with everything at their disposal including anti-aircraft guns and Lewis Guns. None of the ships suffered a direct hit.

25th of October 1941

Naples Ablaze for Fourth Successive Night

RAF Wellington Bomber

Fires burning in the Italian city of Naples are still burning for a fourth successive night, as RAF bombers continue their campaign. For more than six hours the RAF kept up the attack dropping thousands of pounds of High Explosives. The port and railway were the main targets, the reason for which is though to be to prevent the city from being used as a supply depot for German and Italian forces in Libya.

25th of October 1942

Allies Smash Rommel’s Lines

British Tanks in Egypt

After the biggest artillery barrage of the war so far, British, Dominion and Allied infantry have smashed through Rommel’s outer defences in Egypt. Tanks have been brought up and fierce fighting is now under way inside the German lines. The artillery barrage was described by an eye witness as the biggest since the Battle of the Somme.

26th of October 1943

Red Army on the Hunt

Red Army Armour

The Germans are in full retreat in the East as an avalanche of Russians tanks pursue them. Reports say that the German soldiers are ditching weapons and even loot on the roadside as they flee the Red Army’s armour.

In other News

25th of October 1950

Atomic Scientists Show of Loyalty

Many foreign born scientists now working in Britain on Atom splitting and Atomic weapons projects have handed in their passports confining themselves to Britain in a show of loyalty to their adopted nation. Following the disappearance of one scientist, and the discovery that another was betraying secrets, a group of scientist met and decided on the gesture in order to prove their loyalty and dedication to the work.

25th of October 1960

Queen in near miss with Luftwaffe

Luftwaffe Sabre Fighter Aircraft

Three dramatic moves have been made following the news that two German Sabre jet fighters narrowly missed a 1000 m.p.h. collision with an aircraft carrying the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. The West German Government issued a formal apology through its embassy in London to the Queen on behalf of the Luftwaffe; a joint investigation was set up involving the RAF and the Luftwaffe to investigate the incident, and finally the Luftwaffe have opened an internal inquiry to identify the pilots, telling all officers to stand by, all night if necessary.

25th of October 1970

Freed Briton in “Spy” Riddle

Ship’s Officer Peter Crouch , held by the Chinese for two-and-a-half years, flew back to Britain and freedom and immediately became the centre of a “spy” mystery. The riddle that he posed on his homecoming; was he or was he not spying for the Navy?

At first he said that he was and that he had made notes on Chinese warships and that the Navy had asked him to, but he later changed his mind and said that the Navy hadn’t asked him to spy, and that his actions were all carried out on his own initiative.

October 15th – On this Day in…

Ajax Again – Sinks 3 Italians

October 15th, 1940

HMS Ajax

HMS Ajax, the famous cruiser which battered the Graf Spee in the River Plate battle , has sunk 2 Italian destroyers and, in the face of heavy odds, crippled another in two brilliant Mediterranean Actions.

HMS York finished off the damaged vessel and then the navy showed its complete contempt for Mussolini’s navy.

Despite the risk of giving away their position in clear weather they radioed the position of the sinking vessel and its survivors on Italian wavelengths. Italian aircraft picked up on the transmission but failed to score any hits on the British ships. A report on the incident stated:

 “HMS Ajax made contact with three Italian destroyers of the 679 ton Airone class, about eighty miles south-east of Sicily. HMS Ajax at once engaged and two of the destroyers were sunk outright.” “Shortly after this encounter Ajax sighted an enemy force composed of one heavy cruiser and four destroyers.” “Ajax again engaged and succeeded in crippling one of the enemy destroyers. The remainder of the force escaped into the darkness.”

“Dead” VC is Prisoner

October 15th, 1940

Captain Wilson

A British officer reported to have been killed defending a machine-gun post in Somaliland and awarded the VC is alive, and a prisoner of war in the hands of the Italians.

The officer is Lieutenant (acting Captain) Eric Charles Twelves Wilson of the East Surrey Regiment, attached to the Somaliland Camel Corps. When informed, Captain Wilson’s mother was said to be unable to believe the news. His VC citation read:

 “For four days the posts manned by Somali soldiers were blasted by short-range gunfire. Captain Wilson was wounded in one shoulder and one eye, and was suffering from malaria.”

Wins DSO for his 21st Birthday

October 15th, 1941

Paddy Finucane

Irish born RAF ace Paddy Finucane has been awarded the DSO on his 21st Birthday. Paddy, acting Squadron Leader has shot down twenty-three enemy planes and already holds the DFC with two bars.

Axis Lose 12 more over Malta: 94 Since Sunday

October 15th, 1942

Spitfire on Malta

The Spitfires of Malta shot down twelve more enemy aircraft; four bombers and eight fighters were downed while several more were damaged. The battle brings the number of enemy aircraft downed over or near Malta to ninety-four since Sunday. British losses were twelve Spitfires but five pilots are safe.  

October 12th – On this Day in…

RAF Strike by Day and Night

October 12th 1941

Blenheim Bombers

After daylight sweeps over the channel in which RAF fighters shot down seven enemy fighter aircraft for the loss of two aircraft, the RAF carried out another fierce bombing raid on the French side of the channel the same night.

Large fires were set on the docks at Boulogne, after a daylight sweep as the night bombers concentrated on targets further inland. Another formation of Blenheims, escorted by fighters attacked an enemy convoy of the coast of Holland.

Nazis Admit ‘Were on the Defensive’

October 12th 1942

Germans on the Defensive

A sensational statement on German radio by a military spokesman admitted that Hitler was turning from the offensive to the defensive. That is the position on the eve of the fourth winter of the war declared the spokesman in a broadcast to millions of German listeners. The German listeners were also to that “The end of the war cannot be foreseen.”

“The speeches we heard from the Fuhrer and Marshall Goering express a transition in the military situation” the spokesman said.

Fifth Push 15 miles

Clark says ‘Hit ‘em hard’

October 12th 1943

American Soldiers of the Fifth Advance

The right wing of General Clark’s Fifth Army has advanced fifteen miles in twenty-four hours and has begun to turn the Volturno Line. The British and American troops are advancing through pelting rain, often knee deep in mud. They have penetrated deep into mountainous terrain, although German resistance is now said to be stiffening.

According to Berlin the allies have opened up a fierce artillery barrage, and the battle for the Volturno crossing is fast approaching.

October 11th – On this Day in…

October 11th, 1940

Navy Guns Nazi Port

Royal Navy in Action

Big guns of the Royal Navy carried out a terrific bombardment of the Nazi held port of Cherbourg. Helped by RAF spotting planes the Navy blazed away at the docks, and shipping, and the fires could be seen some forty miles away. An RAF Squadron Leader who was over the area at the same time described the scene as “hell let loose” he continued “as we went over the English coast the glare and explosions appeared to be so close that I imagined at first that we must be off course.”  

October 11th, 1941

Smash-Raid on Cologne

Halifax Bomber

After nine consecutive nights of poor weather grounding our bombers the RAF carried out a fierce attack involving more than 200 aircraft. The aircraft included four-engine Halifax bombers with their huge payloads. While they were smashing enemy industrial targets in Germany, other RAF planes were hitting the docks at Ostend, Dunkirk, and Bordeaux. Ten bombers failed to return.

While these attacks were ongoing British night fighter-bombers were pounding enemy aerodromes in Holland and France leaving a trail of destruction. At one aerodrome in Holland incendiary bombs started one large fire and two smaller ones. At another Dutch aerodrome, a large plane on the ground was seen to be well alight.

October 11th, 1943

He Hung from Burning Plane as Huns Attacked

RAF Marauder

With his shoes and flying boots ripped off by the wind and cannon shells from German fighters ripping into his plane, Staff-Sergeant Air Gunner, La Verne F. Stein hung unconscious half-way out of the escape window of a smoking Marauder bomber. High over France the Marauder had been set ablaze and a crash seemed inevitable.

Stein decided to bail out. Then halfway through the escape window the parachute flew open a moment before Stein was ready to jump. Floating out, the parachute jerked him against the side of the plane knocking him unconscious. The wind froze his feet. Stunned and bleeding Stein dangled there. Another gunner, Technical Sergeant Kovalchik saw his plight and crawled to his aid. With the cold air numbing his fingers Kovalchik fought to loosen the ‘chute. Once he almost succeeded, his numbed fingers failing at the last tug.

The ‘chute trailed out of the plane again; another German shell struck, Kovalchik, wounded, shook his head and went back to work. Stein, conscious again, gave a hand. The parachute was loosened, and Stein was pulled into the plane. Miraculously the Marauder was still flying, the enemy aircraft were seen off by Spitfires, and Kovalchik and Stein were brought home safely.

On this Day in…

R.A.F. Harassing Italians

Mussolini’s Desert Problems

8th of October 1940

British in Egypt

The RAF has pursued its harassing of the Italians in Egypt with a bomber attack on a motor transport concentration and army tents near Sidi Barrani. Sidi Barrani is the farthest point attained by the Italians in last months advance into Egypt, and it is from their that they will probably launch the expected desert blitzkrieg.

Extensive reconnaissance flights are also being carried out over enemy territory by the British Air Force. Careful watch is being kept on Italian preparations which are though to require a least another couple of weeks.

Tank Chief is Crash Victim

8th of October 1941

Major General Pope

Major General V. V. Pope, Brigadier H. E. Russell, and Colonel E. S. Unwin have been killed in a flying accident in the Middle East it was reported in London.

Major General Pope who was fifty years of age was one of Britain’s best-known tank officers and was the first military member of the tank board.

He served in France, Belgium, and Russia from September 1914 to the end of the Great War, winning the Military Cross and the DSO, was mentioned seven times in despatches and rose to command a battalion on the North Staffs Regiment.

They Dodged Hun for 1,600 Miles

8th of October 1942

Sgt Louis Massey

Escaping from a Nazi prison camp in France, two British soldiers reported missing after Dunkirk walked 1,600 miles in bitter weather through Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Poland to reach safety in Russia. Most of the time they were dodging Nazis, and for long spells they lived on berries, mushrooms and grass; anything they could find in the woods and fields.

It was only when a Russian recently arrived in this country, called at a London house that the parents of one of the men who made the trek knew that their son, Sergeant Louis Massey, 35, was alive and safe. He is now working at the British Embassy in Moscow and has recently been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

5th Mass for Volturno River Battle

8th of October 1943

Bernard Montgomery

The armies of Clark and Kesselring face each other this morning across the 150ft wide waters of the Volturno River, 100 miles from Rome. Along a seventeen mile stretch from Capua to the sea the 5th Army is massing on the southern bank of this distant moat before Rome. Kesselring is hastily manning his defences on the north bank.

On the Adriatic coast too the Germans have suffered another reverse. General Montgomery, after beating back many counter attacks by Tiger tanks and Infantry at Termoli, launched a brilliant assault which carried his troops to some high ground.

7th of October

One Fatality in Long Raid

7th of October 1940Liverpool Hit by Waves of Planes

German Bombers

Liverpool suffered a bombing raid for the first time in a week. Waves of enemy aircraft spent several hours over the city. Despite the extended raid there was only one reported fatality as well as slight damage to a hospital but no injuries.

Incendiary bombs failed to have a significant effect as they were quickly tackled by firefighters and others on the ground.

7th of October 1941RAF Rout Nazi Raiders in Russia

RAF in Russia

RAF Fighters in Russia hit nearly every bomber in a Nazi raid on their airfield. Three Junkers 88 aircraft were shot down and several more were damaged and unlikely to make it back to base. The German aircraft caused no damage to the aerodrome and their was only one slight injury on the ground.

7th of October 1943Large Scale Bombing Raids on Southern and North West Germany

Lancaster Bombers

Lancaster bombers of the RAF took part in large scale bombing raids over North West and Southern Germany. Berlin admitted that heavy damage was caused by the raid. Seven of the Lancasters failed to return.

7th of October 1944Royal Navy Seize Greek Island

Landing parties from the Arethusa Class Cruiser Aurora and the Destroyer Catterick have attacked and taken control of the small Greek island of Levitha. Following a bombardment by the two ships, armed raiding parties went ashore, and after a fierce fight, took control of the eastern half of the island from the German Garrison. Following a further bombardment from the 6 inch guns of Aurora the German garrison commander surrendered control of the island to the Royal Navy raiding party.

Operation Biting: Stealing the German’s top secret radar apparatus

One of the major races of World War Two was the race to develop a reliable radar system to detect enemy aircraft early enough to send up the fighter intercept groups to shoot them down. Of course, both sides were determined to conceal their progress from the other, and the development of these systems was a closely guarded secret. By late 1941 the British had begun to suspect that the Germans had got their noses in front, and aerial photographs seemed to confirm this. There was only one course of action; send a raiding party across the channel and steal it!

RAF Whitley Transport

The plan would involve parachuting into enemy held Northern France, attacking the German radar station, stealing the apparatus and then smuggling it back across the channel in Royal Navy gunboats; on top of all that they would have to create enough of a mess to convince the Germans that they had destroyed the radar and not stolen it.

The man chosen to lead the raid was Major John Frost, the man who would go on to distinguish himself in the assault on Arnhem Bridge during operation Market Garden in 1944.

John Frost

The attack would take place on the night of the 27th of February 1942, when the 2nd Parachute Battalion under Major Frost would parachute in along with a number of engineers and radar specialists who had volunteered to go along on the raid in order to examine and dismantle the apparatus. The Royal Navy would send a number of Motor Gunboats and landing craft across the channel to transport the raiders along with the radar apparatus back to the south coast of England.

The weather on the night of the 27th was perfect with clear skies and good visibility. The parachutists were transported in Whitley transport aircraft from RAF Thruxton, near Andover in Hampshire. The Royal Navy flotilla left the South Coast of England in the Afternoon. Despite coming under heavy anti-aircraft fire as they crossed the French coast the drop was almost a complete success, and all of C Company were inserted right on target. The only mishap was when half of Nelson company were dropped 2 miles short of the drop zone.

2nd Parachute Battalion

The whole process of examining and dismantling the apparatus was carried out under heavy enemy fire, but with Major Frost leading from the front the paratroops fought tirelessly to hold off any German counter attacks. When the order was given to withdraw to the beach it quickly became apparent that the beach had not yet been cleared, and the men had to withdraw back to the Villa, which by now had been retaken by the Germans. Yet again the paratroopers took control. On returning to the beach Frost discovered that the soldiers of Nelson Company who had missed their drop zone had finally arrived and taken out the German machine gun nest that was holding the beach for the Germans.

Motor Gun Boat

Signal flares were put up, and out of the darkness the naval party arrived to evacuate the beach and take the men and radar apparatus out to the motor gun boats and back across the channel. Losses were limited to 2 killed, 6 wounded and 6 captured when they were left behind on the beach as the naval party left. The raid was a huge success, and gave the allies a significant advantage over the Germans when it came to radar countermeasures, which would eventually be used before the D-Day landings as part of a diversionary raid.

The Parachute Regiment displayed the same courage and skill that they would later show at Arnhem in 1944 when faced with overwhelming odds. They continue to be an elite part of the British Army today, and are often at the forefront of British operations all over the world.

WW2 Flying Accidents: The Enemy Within

During the war many pilots were lost to enemy action, but in the days before ground proximity radar, gps and electronic instruments, flying accidents were a real risk. The Forest of Bowland, an upland area consisting mainly of moorland in Lancashire gained a reputation as an area that caused pilots particular difficulties, mainly due to its high ground, changeable weather, and a lack of navigational features.

In 1943 Lockheed P38 Lightning fighters of the 82nd Fighter group (USAAF) were to be transferred to North Africa, a move which would require modifications to be made to the aircraft in order to operate in the dusty conditions found in the North African desert. The aircraft would need to be flown from their base at Goxhill in North East Lincolnshire to a depot at Langford Lodge on the shores of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland; a journey of some 251 miles taking them across Yorkshire and Lancashire before crossing the Irish Sea.

The 82nd fighter squadron had come into being in the US in February 1942, and was moved to Northern Ireland in October of the same year. It was part of the 78th fighter group based near the village of Goxhill in Lincolnshire, but later moved to Duxford in Cambridgeshire.

Goxhill Airbase WW2

The P38 Lightning was a piston engined aircraft developed by the Lockheed Corporation in the late 1930’s for the US Army Air Corps. It was brought into service in 1941 and was used in a number of roles including fighter; night fighter; fighter bomber, and aerial reconnaissance. The aircraft weighed in and just under 8 tonnes; it was just under 38ft long, with a wingspan of 52ft. The power came from 2 V12 liquid cooled engines producing 1,600 horsepower each, taking the aircraft to a maximum speed of 414 mph, and a cruising speed of 275 mph.

Early on the morning of the 26th there were 45 aircraft making the journey from Lincolnshire to Northern Ireland for the required modifications. En route the aircraft encountered heavy cloud over Northern England. With the visibility deteriorating, two of the aircraft collided over the Trough of Bowland, an area of moorland fells in Lancashire. One aircraft flown by 2nd Lieutenant Stephen L. White crashed on Braxton Fell, Due North of the Village of Dunsop Bridge, while the second aircraft came down to the south on Dunsop Fell. Neither pilot survived.

Lockheed P38 Lightning

Just one month before the crash, flight officer Wladyslaw Pucek of 317 squadron Polish Air Force crashed his Spitfire on nearby White Moss Fell. Remarkably, one month prior in November 1941 a Mustang A6208 on a photographic sortie being flown by Flying Officer S. P. Marlatt of No. 4 squadron Royal Canadian Airforce crashed into the ground at cruising speed on Holdron Moss, around 2 miles from the village of Dunsop Bridge.

Memorial at Holdron Moss

A memorial stands near to the site of the Holdron Moss crash, at the top of which is Pilot Officer Norman J. Sharpe of 256 squadron Royal Airforce. On the night of the 18th of August 1941, PO Sharpe was on a night training flight from RAF Squires Gate (now Blackpool Airport), in a Boulton Paul Defiant Mk.1 when he crashed on Hawthornthwaite Fell near Abbeystead. Reports say the aircraft was flying straight and level when it hit ground at around 1,300 feet. PO Sharpe was found alive the next day having crawled around a mile from his wrecked aircraft, but sadly died in hospital from his injuries.

Pilot Officer N. J. Sharpe

Anyone who has ever visited the area, particularly during the winter months will know just how remote and desolate it can seem, especially when the cloud comes in. It is also a place of great beauty, and well worth a visit in the summer months. If you decide to go and explore the area, take a moment to remember those brave pilots who died in the most unfortunate of circumstances upon those Lancashire moors.

Forest of Bowland AONB

Overcoming Adversity: Group Captain Douglas Bader

Douglas Bader

By the time of the Battle of Britain Douglas Bader had already fought a major battle, not with a foreign enemy, with adversity. At the age of just 21 Bader lost both his legs in a flying accident when his wing tip hit the ground during a display of aerobatics at the Reading Aerodrome; indeed he was lucky to survive. Despite his horrific injuries Douglas Bader only had one thing on his mind; flying.

Bader’s love for flying stemmed from his boyhood visits to the RAF College at Cranwell to stay with his Aunt Hazel and her husband Flight Lieutenant Cyril Burge who was adjutant at the college. He was fascinated by the cadets doing their takeoffs, circuits, and landings. Bader would join in with the Cadets’ morning runs and games such as Cricket. Douglas himself secured a prized cadetship at Cranwell thanks to the support and generosity of a school master who saw something in Bader and wanted him to reach his full potential.

RAF College Cranwell

Surgeon Mr Joyce was finished for the day at the Royal Berkshire Hospital when he was called for by one of the nurses. A young RAF pilot had been brought in with horrific leg injuries following a crash and didn’t look like he was going to survive. Leonard Joyce was regarded as one of the finest orthopaedic surgeons of his day; if anyone could save Bader’s life it was him. The dedicated surgeon cancelled his evening plans and Bader was taken straight into surgery. His right leg was damaged beyond repair and had to be amputated above the knee; there was some hope for the left leg though. Bader’s life hung in the balance; hours in surgery had left Bader weak, but because of his excellent physical fitness he clung to life. When Bader became aware that his legs had both been amputated he fell into a depression that was uncharacteristic of the man, but it wasn’t to last. Thanks to the encouragement and care of the nurses, in particular Dorothy Brace, Bader’s sense of purpose and determination returned.

Once his stumps were sufficiently healed, Bader was sent to see Robert Dessouter, a prosthetics specialist and was fitted with two prosthetic limbs. Despite being told he would never walk without a stick he never walked with one; hours and hours of painstaking practice on his new legs saw to that. Eventually he was sent to the central flying school to see if he could still fly. Bader passed his flying test with, if you will excuse the pun, flying colours as his natural ability as a pilot shone through. His excitement at returning to the cockpit was short lived however, as despite been passed as fit, there was nothing in the regulations that permitted an officer with two prosthetic limbs to fly an aircraft. Bader couldn’t face the prospect of a ground job and was pensioned out of the RAF. He took a job with the Asiatic Petroleum Company working in the Aviation department. The pay was sufficient but the boredom of office life soon got to Bader. He spirits lifted somewhat when he realised that despite his handicap he was quite a talented golfer, and could compete on an equal plane with his able bodied friends.

Supermarine Spitfire

The outbreak of war was the turning point; Britain was in desperate need of pilots; Bader sensed his chance and grabbed it with both hands. His old friend from Cranwell, now Squadron Leader, Geoffrey Stephenson recommended that he visited Air Vice Marshal Frederick Hallahan, their old training school commander from Cranwell to see if he could find him a job.

Bader, bitterly disappointed that Hallahan was only dealing with ground jobs made an impassioned plea, leading Hallahan to write him a note recommending him for flying duties. Bader subsequently passed both a medical and flying test and was restored to flying duties. Despite being older than his new RAF colleagues, Bader’s natural talent, and forceful personality meant that he was soon respected and began to work his way through the ranks, firstly as a flight commander, then a squadron leader and finally as a wing commander. Bader inspired confidence in those under his command, his relaxed manner in the air, and seeming invincibility made those around him feel invincible.

Bader’s seeming invincibility came to an end when he was finally shot down over enemy occupied France. While bailing out one of his legs became trapped in the cockpit, finally breaking free he was quickly captured by the enemy and taken to a hospital in St Omer. The Germans treated him well, asking the British to drop a new leg for him. He was invited to a nearby Luftwaffe airfield for afternoon tea, where he was treated with the same level of respect as the German pilots and even allowed to sit in the Cockpit of a Messerschmitt ME 109.

Colditz Castle

Not one to sit out the war, Bader promptly escaped from the hospital with the aid of a nurse and the local resistance, he walked for miles to reach the relative safety of a cottage owned by sympathetic locals were he was captured hiding in a cow shed under a pile of hay. Bader was moved from prison camp to prison camp; he made constant efforts to escape and generally be a thorn in the side of his captors. Eventually he wound up at Colditz Castle and was freed when the castle was liberated by the Americans. His first thoughts were to find a British fighter squadron in order to get back into the war, but he was forced to return home. He never got back into the conflict and his next flight was as a Group Captain in the lead aircraft in a victory parade.

Following the war, Bader did a lot of work with amputees, inspiring a generation of veterans, and ordinary people with amputated limbs to fulfil their ambitions and live full lives. So today we remember Group Captain Douglas Bader CBE, DSO and Bar, DL, FRAeS, the epitome of courage and determination against adversity.