I’m always intrigued by war stories – it shows us at our best as a nation in so many ways.

I’ve just been watching a(nother – I’ve read his story before) programme on Douglas Bader, who lost his legs when a fighter pilot and was fitted with ‘tin’ ones. He was furiously determined not to let his legs slow him down, and his old colleagues were talking with awe on what Bader could do with a Spitfire – one of them said he couldn’t do it with 2 legs, never mind 2 tin ones.

Bader on the left, with Czech pilot, Major Hess.  From )

Then Bader was shot down over Germany. He had to bale out of his aircraft and in the process one of the legs got stuck, so he baled out without it. He was caught and sent to prison hospital.

He then demanded that the Germans make him another prosthetic leg, but apparently they didn’t have the technology to do it. In an extraordinary – unique – decision, the Germans agreed to an English pilot flying over to Germany with a new leg for Bader. It came floating down by parachute, wrapped up in brown paper.


Quite amazing!

Bader then proceeded to make a nuisance of himself by escaping from everywhere they put him. Eventually he ended up in Colditz for the remainder of the war.

I gather he is a controversial figure and splits opinion down the middle. Some people felt he embellished his stories of victories against German planes and led his men into unnecessary danger. But there was no doubt that he could also be an inspirational figure, and he epitomised the British bulldog spirit that saw us through the war.

He was, however, absolutely certain that it was not just the RAF that won the war. He insisted that it was the whole nation, and reckoned it was more difficult to stay on the ground and take all the bombing and deal with the effects of it. It was easier in a way, he said, to go up in a plane and fight the enemy.

He would have been very much at home in the paralympics.


14 thoughts on “DOUGLAS BADER’S TIN LEG

  1. I saw that programme. It was very interesting.
    And I heard about the women pilots this morning on Radio 4. Maybe you could listen to the IPlayer if it’s on there.


    1. I’m pleased that documentaries are trying to put different sides of a story now. It used to be that heroes like Bader were put on pedestals. Now the media take delight in pulling people off them. The truth lies somewhere in the middle!


      1. 8| Now I am intrigued and am imagining everything, from your being surrounded by piles of discarded prosthetic legs in a form of abstract art, to your being a physiotherapist in a past life … 😉 :))


  2. There were amazing women who flew planes, including spitfires, during the war. We do not hear about them as they were not officially on the front line and technically, were not service personnel. What they did was deliver aircraft, amongst other things, and they had to deal with the vagaries of the British weather, like any other pilot. There were female pilot and plane losses amongst them. I have no idea if any of them had early prostheses.

    Early war films do leave you with a fuzzy massage sensation. Post war this was a very necessary mass therapy. The films are built up stories like any other to make a film saleable. Not wishing to detract from the prowess of what the forces and individuals accomplished, amongst which, doubtless there are charismatic individuals, it is easy to get led down the paths of fantasy. Conflict reality is always more coarse.

    There are some amazing facts from war time, the replacement Bader leg being one. As for Para-Olympians, there must have been many, though they were not identified as such. There were a lot of super people then, and there are many now.


    1. I wonder if anyone has taken up the women’s stories, which deserve to be heard much more than they are. Apart from the odd memoir, I suspect there are other books. Anything dramatised always leaves out huge chunks of the original story – and the same is true for documentaries.

      I’m interested in people’s desire for a hero or heroine, which leads us into thinking that such people are somehow not subject to the same weaknesses as the rest of us. This of course is nonsense, and leads to building up false roles and personae, and then the inevitable pulling them down again. It feeds the media.


      1. If you go to the BBC web site, you may find a pointer to an aspect of the women ‘s stories. Wiki is always a good starting source. I suspect some librarians will have a few ideas up their capacious sleeves, as well.


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