Meeting Sir Douglas Bader

Meeting Sir Douglas Bader

By David Godfree

It was around 1975, I was sitting in fitting Room No. 8, with prosthesis off to the factory for some repair or other, so I had my trousers off, but my orthoses on my left leg was still on. In those days, I wore a long, woollen stump sock under the thigh and calf bands. Suddenly BANG! and the door flew open wide and there was the Group Captain, Sir Douglas Bader, legs splayed with his usual gait. Immediately he said “Good God, someone’s worse off than me.”

“No sir” I said “you have got two ‘tin legs’ I only have one”, yes he said, “but your remaining knee is buggered, you are much worse off”, by this time he had walked to my end of the fitting room from the door carrying five artificial legs over his shoulders. So he had SEVEN limbs, legs, on his person!
He then retired to the little curtained off section of the room.

I wanted to talk to him – so I decided to take a day off work if needs be and try to strike up a conversation with him when my leg had been returned from the factory. it was returned, I put it back on, dressed up and walked up to the curtained section, poked my face through the curtain and said, “How is the ‘grey lady’ Sir”. He sat up somewhat surprised and said, “Good Lord, how do you know about that?” I said, “Well, you took delivery of your grey lady during the same week as His Royal Highness Prince Phillip took delivery of his ‘grey lady’ in 1963, and I read about the event.”
That was it, I was in! “Come in, sit down old boy” said Sir Douglas. So we started talking about cars, aeroplanes, flying, the Battle of Britain, politics, EVERYTHING. It was marvelous.

Then his prosthetist appeared, he had these five legs arranged around him at the ready. “Ah”, says Sir Douglas, “You’ve come/ have you finished your tea break?” Are you likely to go on strike shortly, because I want these ‘bloody’ legs sorted, otherwise I’ll borrow your spanners and take them home to my garage and sort them out myself!”

With that the prosthetist (whose name I am afraid I just cannot remember) lent forward and picked up a leg, placed it under his arm, stepped back, opened the door halfway, put his right hand on top of the door, looked straight at me with a big grin and said “NO WONDER WE HAVE F***ING WARS!”
With that the three of us absolutely collapsed in hysterics, almost uncontrollable. And with that the prosthetist (I wish I could remember his name, he was so good; as are all of them, very willing and attentive) departed.

It was now about lunchtime so I went off and got some sandwiches and coffee and we sat down and continued talking “about the world” until around 4pm. When all his bits had been attended to, we shook hands and made our respective ways home.

The Bader Foundation had not been dreamt of in 1975-76 as far as I can remember, but that man did more for disabled people in general than any other single person before or since. He was a tremendous person.