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 http://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/online-exhibitions/douglas-bader-fighter-pilot/personal-documents/douglas-bader-with-major-hess-commander-of-a-czech-fighter-squadron.aspx )
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.
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.