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The archives at the Imperial War Museums

(IWM) hold some 192 items relating to the

career of Sir Douglas Bader. These include

art, photographs, private papers and sound

recordings which provide some very useful

material for those researchers who are

interested in his distinguished career with

the Royal Air Force. His service during

the Battle of Britain and the continuing

controversy about the use of the ‘Big Wing’,

a tactic which was fiercely opposed by senior

commanders such as Air Chief Marshal Keith

Park, has been well covered.

Two of the most fascinating items (IWM,

Special Miscellaneous N8 and P8) are the

Central Flying School Report assessing

Bader’s ability as a pilot as ‘exceptional’

despite the loss of both legs and

recommending that he should fly fighters

and the pass issued to Flight Lieutenant Bader

granting him ‘permission to be absent from

Group Captain

Sir Douglas Bader

(A, 1923-1928)

his quarters after duty to 23:59 hours daily

to proceed to Red Lion, Whittlesford’, while

he was stationed with No 19 Squadron RAF

at RAF Duxford in Cambridgeshire, which is

now part of the IWM.

Owing to limited space, I am going to

focus on perhaps less well-known events

after Bader was shot down over France while

flying his Spitfire on 9th August 1941 and

taken prisoner by the Germans. Refusing to

be repatriated on medical grounds, Bader

was restored to full mobility when the RAF

dropped a spare tin leg during a bombing

raid to replace the right leg which had been

damaged when he bailed out of his Spitfire.

Bader was soon trying to escape and, when

he couldn’t, waging his own private war with

the Germans, indulging his penchant

for being difficult about anything and

everything if it annoyed and

aggravated his captors.

Eventually, in October 1941, Bader ended

up at Oflag VIB, a camp for captured British

officers. In early May 1942, most of the RAF

prisoners of war at Oflag VIB were suddenly

moved to a new camp at Sagan, Stalag Luft

III, run by the Luftwaffe. For a brief time,

Bader was held in the same compound as the

NCOs. As Sergeant Leslie Frith later wrote in

his unpublished memoirs,

What a Way to Win

a War

(IWM, Private Papers of L Frith, 91/6/1)

‘apparently he had been virtually thrown

out of his last camp as being too much of

a disruptive influence and frog-marched to

Stalag Luft 3 to start all over again.’ Very soon

Bader began to urge the sergeants to take a

more bold and rebellious attitude towards

their guards. Sergeant William Stevens

(IWM, W Stevens, Sound Archive

15608) recalled that he was ‘very

bumptious, of course, throwing

his weight about, “we must

do this, we must do the

other”.’ Leslie Frith,

although an admirer,

admitted that ‘we

were pleased to get

rid of him’ when

Bader joined

his fellow



Simon Innes-Robbins

(C, 1972-1977),

Senior Archivist, Imperial War Museum