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By Mike Davenport, EAA 89102, Langley, British Columbia
September 2020 – As COVID-19 continues, so do I continue to reread books found on my bookshelf. The most recent being Reach for the Sky by Paul Brickhill, the life story of Douglas Bader (up to 1951), first published in 1954. Other great reads by Brickhill include The Dam Busters and The Great Escape.
My copy of Reach for the Sky is a more recent copy reprinted in June 1958. The story follows Bader though his early home life to becoming a pilot in the early 1930s and so on through WWII and all the trials and tribulations he experienced. He was a double amputee, having lost both legs in a December 1931 crash while attempting low level aerobatics. Later in the early days of the war he was reinstated as a pilot officer in spite of his obvious handicap(s) and soon became commander of 242 Canadian Squadron. Over Dunkirk and in the Battle of Britain while flying Hurricanes, he became an ace with 20 plus victories. His luck later ran out over France in 1941 when he was shot down while flying a Spitfire and became a POW until war's end. After the war, his work as an activist for the disabled earned him a knighthood. Used copies of this book are available on the internet and are well worth a read.
Sir Douglas Bader in uniform.
I met him once in the late '70s. Well that may be a bit of a stretch; we were in the same hallway at the same time. Does that count? I was looking for the washroom and he and his entourage were in the hall. As we passed, we made eye contact. I was totally awestruck, gobsmacked you might say. A childhood hero in the same room as me. I knew exactly who he was in spite of not expecting to see any one of his stature. Physically, he was a big man broad of shoulder and surprisingly tall. Although, in his case, he could be as tall as he wanted. Two tin legs after all (his words, not mine)! He, along with Charles Lindbergh, were childhood idols of mine and as one never expects to see one's idols in person, I very cleverly said nothing, not even hello, a fact that I have regretted ever since and my friends find hard to believe as they know I’ve never had an unspoken thought.
...and in civvies, but always with the pipe.
This meeting took place at a hotel in the resort town of Harrison Hot Springs where Sir Douglas was the guest speaker at an aviation conference. I was there representing EAA Chapter 85 in Vancouver. I had somehow missed the fact that Sir Douglas would be there when I agreed to be the chapter rep. It also had been a 60 mile drive at the end of a busy day and I had no dinner and so perhaps I could be forgiven for not being alert to the fact that someone so well-known was there that night.
Posing with a Hurricane and "Two Tin Legs."
I do not recall what he spoke about but I'm sure it was fascinating to all in the room.
Sir Douglas succumbed to a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 72.