On the 31st May, a glorious sunny Sunday morning I was lucky enough to be part of a select crowd of people associated with Sir Douglas who had gathered outside his old home in Petersham Mews to see an English Heritage Blue Plaque unveiled in his honour by Sir Richard Branson. Douglas and his first wife, Thelma, had made their home there in 1955 and Douglas had lived there with Thelma and latterly, following their marriage in 1974, with his second wife, Joan, for almost 30 years until his death in September 1982. Regretfully, Lady Bader was unable to attend the ceremony.
There is no doubt that Sir Douglas had earned this accolade. Not only had he displayed phenomenal courage and fortitude during the war, fighting on as a Spitfire pilot despite losing both legs following a flying accident, as has been well documented, but he had campaigned tirelessly for the rights of amputees and disabled people ever since. He visited a great many new amputees, frequently driving hundreds of miles to do so. It was as a result of the letters and messages received from amputees and others who had been inspired by both his visits and his personal example that The Douglas Bader Foundation was set up to continue his work.
Several amputees and participants in fund-raising events for the charity were present at the unveiling. Also among those present was Jill Lucas, sister of Thelma and widow of Wing Commander ‘Laddie’ Lucas who had been a great help and support in the early days of the Foundation.
Six people culminating in Sir Richard Branson had been invited to speak prior to the unveiling: Emily Cole, head of the Blue Plaque team and their head historian, talked about the Blue Plaque scheme; Peter Dye, O.B.E, Director of the Collectors Division, RAF Museum, talked about Douglas’s aviation history; Wendy McCleave shared personal memories of Sir Douglas and time spent at Petersham Mews; David Gardner, who lost his leg in the 7/7 London bombing spoke movingly about Sir Douglas’s inspiration and the help he had received from the Foundation; David Bickers, Chairman of The Douglas Bader Foundation, then gave some background information about the charity and the plans for its ongoing work and Sir Richard Branson, who had known Sir Douglas well from a very young age, brought the speeches to a close with some personal memories of occasions with Sir Douglas and praise for the Foundation’s achievements. Keith Delderfield, director of Operations for the charity, stage managed the speeches beautifully, despite a tempramental microphone, introducing the speakers and thanking all for attending.
Finally, following a cheerful countdown, the handsome plaque was unveiled by Sir Richard Branson with the help of David Bickers, to much enthusiastic applause.
David Bickers, also Douglas’s son-in-law and one of the founders of the charity, and Jane Biro of the English Heritage had worked incredibly hard to organise the event. They can certainly congratulate themselves and their helpers on a job well done. Even the weather obliged to make this a truly memorable occasion and it was a very fitting way to provide a lasting tribute to a truly unique and inspirational man. A man who, to quote Sir Richard Branson was a real “Boys’ Own Hero”.
We are very grateful to Robert Pascall, photographer/cameraman and long-time friend and supporter of the Douglas Bader Foundation, who took some wonderful, informal photographs on Sunday. They capture the atmosphere of the Douglas Bader Blue Plaque unveiling ceremony (sunny in both senses!) perfectly.
To view them, please click on:
Photographs were also sent in by Margaret Biggs, (aka Leggz of Forum fame), Christopher Harwood, the Vice Chair of the Roehampton Limb User Group: http://rlug.org.uk and Steve McNeice, formerly of the Associate Parliamentary Limb Loss Group. www.apllg.org.uk We are very grateful to them all for sending these pictures, which provide such a valuable record of a special day.
Their photographs can be seen by clicking on the following link: Blue Plaque Photographs
I am very grateful to Steve McNeice, who attended the event, for providing the following links:
http://uk.truveo.com/blue-plaque-for-war-hero-bader/id/1638407714 & associated links on the pages …