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Douglas Bader (1910-82)

Douglas Bader was born in England and joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) when he was 18. He had an accident while performing acrobatics in a plane in 1931, in which he damaged both his legs. He was forced to leave the RAF in 1933, but rejoined during the Second World War.

Because of his injuries, Bader had both of his legs amputated. When he received his first prosthetic legs, he told the limb fitter, Robert Desoutter, that he would ‘never walk with a stick’. He returned to the RAF in 1939, and was shot down and taken as a prisoner of war in 1941. When his plane crashed he damaged one of his artificial legs and lost the other one. His German captors repaired his leg and retrieved the other from the wreckage of his plane. The Red Cross flew replacement legs to Germany which were dropped from a plane over Colditz, where Bader was a prisoner. Bader had a biography written about his experiences of learning to walk with his artificial limbs and his time as a prisoner of war. It was turned into a film called Reach for the Skies, starring Kenneth More.

Bibliography

P Brickhill, Reach for the Sky (Hertfordshire: Odhams Press, 1955)

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP, 2005)

Glossary:

Prostheses

Artificial body parts, or materials inserted into tissue for functional, cosmetic, or therapeutic effect. Prostheses can be functional (artificial arms and legs), or cosmetic (artificial eye).