The posting this month is not from our gallery but from our theatre. Throughout the summer, the museum will be showing some classic war movies. On June 01/19 we will be presenting the story of Douglas Bader, one of Britain’s great fighter pilots of World War II. The movie is called “Reach for the Sky”, and it’s one of my all-time favourites. I have also watched several documentaries covering the same story.
From these sources, I had drawn conclusions about the man himself. Having been asked to write this post I thought I had enough information already; but feeling as though I should get all the information I could possibly find, I decided to read the original book. Boy, am I ever glad I did. The movie and the documentaries only covered the Bader story from his accident to the end of World War II.
From these I thought I knew the man as many of us do when thinking of our heroes and stars of movies and TV. The book, however, starts at his birth and gives insight to the make up of the man. I had always thought that Bader was sometimes careless with the safety of his men, driven to get the highest scores. Part of that last statement is correct and yet the other half couldn’t be further from the truth. He was born to a middle-class family, the second of two boys. From the moment he was born, he was always having to prove he was just as good as his brother, especially to his mother who doted on her first son. He learned to never give in to his older brother. They fought constantly but without question they loved each other. Whenever they got into trouble, Douglas was nearly always said to be the guilty one.
In school, Douglas excelled at all sports. In fact, anything that got his attention he did well at. The other end of the stick though meant that other things such as school work was barely up to scratch. Douglas did just enough to skim by. His teachers also found out that he loved to push the boundaries; he thought rules were there for others. He rarely turned away from a dare, something that would later nearly kill him. His housemaster made him a prefect, and this gave the young Bader a new found responsibility and he found he enjoyed this. He became more focused and was very fair in his dealings with the younger boys. It was at school that I think he developed his great leadership skills. Perhaps I should say he honed his skills; you can teach the skills of leadership, but great leaders are born. Bader was a great leader.
Bader joined the Royal Air Force during the interwar years, still flying Biplane fighters. Again, he excelled at sports but also became a master at aerobatic flying. He was part of the RAF display team. One day he flew over to one of the local clubs and was just about to leave when someone asked him to do a demo. When he refused a comment was made that made him feel that once again he had something to prove. He pushed it too far!! While half way through a roll, low to the ground, the engine quit and he crashed. It was this accident that cost him his legs. In typical Bader fashion, he approached his recovery with determination, never allowing others to see his pain. He nearly always had a smile for those around him. It was during this time he met his wife, telling her that the loss of his legs would not stop him from flying. In fact, for a short while it did stop him as the RAF dismissed him from the service. If not for the war we may never have learned of Douglas Bader. The fact was that he was a great pilot, with or without his legs! As the war loomed, he was a constant nuisance to those who were in charge of hiring. As the need for qualified pilots rose, the RAF thought that if they put him through flight training he would see he wasn’t capable of piloting these new planes (Spitfire and Hurricane). Thing is, he could and flew them well.
My assumptions about the way he flew and fought were based on only part of the story. Knowing now the story of his childhood, I can see that he just couldn’t stand to be seen as second best. When he lost his legs, this drive was boosted. He was very protective of his pilots both on the ground and in the air. He developed tactics that are in use to this day.
At this point I think I will just say that it is worth the time and effort to come and see “Reach for the Sky”. The movie is quite close to the book as far as the story is concerned. Our admission fee is only a small donation to the museum. The movies that we are showing are as follows:
01 June, “Reach for the Sky”
06 July, “The Dambusters”
10 Aug, “Reunion of Giants” ( Lancaster tour of Britain)
07 Sept, “The Battle of Britain”