Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.
– Sir Douglas Bader, a British fighter ace who lost both legs in a flying accident, but still fought in World War Two. He was knighted for his work with the disabled, and the quote above is from his talk to a 14-year-old boy who had lost a leg in a car accident.
Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Stewart Bader (play /ˈbɑːdər/) CBE, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, FRAeS, DL (21 February 1910 – 5 September 1982) was a Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter ace during the Second World War. He was credited with 20 aerial victories, four shared victories, six probables, one shared probable and 11 enemy aircraft damaged.
Bader joined the RAF in 1928, and was commissioned in 1930. In December 1931, while attempting some aerobatics, he crashed and lost both his legs. Having been on the brink of death, he recovered, retook flight training, passed his check flights and then requested reactivation as a pilot. Although there were no regulations applicable to his situation, he was retired on medical grounds. After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, however, Bader returned to the RAF and was accepted as a pilot. He scored his first victories over Dunkirk during the Battle of France in 1940. He then took part in the Battle of Britain and became a friend and supporter of Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory and his “Big Wing” experiments.
In August 1941, Bader was forced to bail out over German-occupied France and was captured. Soon afterward, he met and befriended Adolf Galland, a prominent German fighter ace. The circumstances surrounding how Bader was shot down in 1941 are controversial. Recent research strongly suggests he was a victim of friendly fire. Despite his disability, Bader made a number of escape attempts and was eventually sent to the POW camp at Colditz Castle. He remained there until the camp was liberated by the First United States Army in April 1945.
Bader left the RAF permanently in February 1946 and later worked in the oil industry. During the 1950s, a book and a film, Reach for the Sky, chronicled his life and RAF career to the end of the Second World War. Bader campaigned for the disabled – for which he was knighted in 1976 – and continued to fly until ill health forced him to stop in 1979. He died three years later, on 5 September 1982, from a sudden heart attack.