The Douglas Bader Notebooks

Last weekend, on the 14th August, we took my mother, Joan Bader, to the Eastbourne Airbourne Airshow.

We had gone by a curiously circuitous route, having been initially invited by Ian Mantel who had organised my mother’s travel insurance to South Africa in February and had asked if her name “had anything to do with a certain War Hero”. On finding that it did, he confessed to being a great fan of Douglas and aeroplanes generally and asked if she might be interested in attending the Airshow of which he is a sponsor.

We had the most wonderful day and were thoroughly spoilt by the hospitality team under Annie Wills. We couldn’t have been better looked after from the moment we arrived until we dragged ourselves away that evening. The food and company were wonderful and the aircraft, including a full display by the fantastic Red Arrows, awesome. To my surprise, I found that I was moved by the aircraft displays; to see evidence of man’s ingenuity and technical genius in those extraordinarily powerful and frequently very beautiful machines was quite salutary and the noise and power of some of those beasts sends shivers down your spine. What Douglas would have given to be able to fly one of those! That said, he would certainly have recognised a couple of his old friends as we were treated to a Demonstration Dog Fight featuring the last Spitfire still flying to have flown in the Battle of Britain.

We were very grateful to Carolyn, the fantastic Mayor of Eastbourne, for her time and company. Eastbourne is certainly lucky to have her; there can’t be many Mayors who are wing-walking one day and hurtling down dummy parachute drops the next. She’d have been up there flying with the Red Arrows on Saturday given half a chance! We thoroughly enjoyed our time with her and her husband and our other fellow guests.

An unexpected bonus to the day was the discovery of notebooks written by Douglas’s last secretary from 1979 to the time of his death in September 1982. These were handed to my mother by Jenny Horridge, one of the hospitality team, who had found them apparently carefully hidden behind a cupboard in a flat she had just bought in Eastbourne. Mostly written in Shorthand, the notebooks contain Douglas’s last years and chronicle that fascinating period in history of which he was so much a part. Most of the writing is, sadly, indecipherable to anyone who doesn’t read Pittman, but several important names from history are clearly visible in longhand and hand written notes bear evidence to the fact that “all life is there”. There are personal references such as shopping lists, budget plans and memos but also letters relating to his business life and, almost more importantly, to the visits he was continually making to amputees and disabled people. It was, of course, as a direct result of these visits and the letters we received from amputees and other disabled people he’s inspired, that we founded the Douglas Bader Foundation in his name following his death. What the notebooks bring home, packed as they are with letters, lists, addresses and schedules etc. is how busy Douglas was even at that stage of his life when, even though he’d kept it close to his chest in characteristic fashion, he knew that he wasn’t well and may not have much longer to live.

The next stage, of course, is to get the notebooks carefully transcribed and to see what they contain. If, as is likely, there is enough of interest there, we may well be able to publish them as a fascinating tribute to the last years of a great man and the time that he lived in. We would also love to know what happened to his secretary after she apparently retired to Eastbourne, and to hear her story.

Whatever the notebooks prove to contain, we are extremely grateful to Jenny for their return. As they run up to and beyond the time of his death and contain references to his funeral arrangements and guest list etc., they have a great deal of sentimental value to the family and we will be very interested to see what they contain.

There has been quite considerable publicity surrounding their discovery but, for those of you who are interested and may have missed it, here are some links to some of the stories. We hope you enjoy them.

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