Sir Douglas Bader

Ok, let’s kick off with the first on the list, Sir Douglas Bader. His connection with Doncaster is that he once lived in the ‘Old Rectory’ in the quaint village of Sprotbrough.

Bader was a reluctant 13-year-old when he moved to Sprotbrough from the Home Counties in 1923. Douglas was the younger son of Jessie and Frederick Bader, an engineer with the British Raj. Born in London in 1910, he spent his first three years in India before the family returned home shortly before the First World War.

His father, Major Frederick Roberts Bader of the Royal Engineers, died in 1922 and the following year his widow married the Reverend Hobbs, amid murmurings from her sons, Douglas and Derick, who didn’t fancy moving 175 miles north.

The Old Rectory, which was partly Elizabethan, was huge, with 24 rooms, including eight bedrooms, separate servants’ quarters and three acres of wooded grounds.

It was bought by the church in the 1850s and significantly remodelled in the fashionable Gothic style, which is how it appears today. Stone mullions frame the long arching windows, grey-wash stucco covers the brickwork and castellated chimneys crown the stone-flagged roof.

Only a small, oval plaque by the battered iron gates of the Old Rectory gives any clue to the man who once lived there.

Two silhouettes of Battle of Britain Hurricanes provide a hint, while the gold lettering spells it out: “Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader CBE DSO DFC, famous legless wartime fighter pilot lived here during his boyhood, circa 1923.”

Young Douglas’s exploits with an air rifle were infamous. He once took a pot-shot at the pink form of his neighbour as she stood behind the frosted glass of her bathroom, and he loved shooting at a dinner gong when his stepfather dozed off while writing his sermons.

The sitting-room window still boasts the cracked pane reputedly targeted by the young marksman. It was a wayward streak that lasted a lifetime. As a young RAF flyer Bader once buzzed the house to parachute in his mother’s birthday present.

But only 18 months after receiving his commission in 1930, and on the verge of a call-up to play rugby union for England, he crashed while performing unauthorised aerobatics and lost both legs. On December 14, 1931, while he was visiting the “Reading Aero Club”, Douglas Bader attempted some low-flying aerobatics at Woodley airfield in a Bulldog Mk. IIA, K1676, of 23 Squadron. This was apparently done on a dare.
Eye-witnesses state that the aeroplane, which belonged to the 23rd Fighter Squadron at Kenley, was doing a “slow-roll” at a low altitude when it nose-dived to the ground. Regulations forbid slow rolls below 1,000 feet (305 metres); Douglas Bader attempted it below 30ft (9m). That Douglas Bader escaped alive was regarded as remarkable.
Pilot G.J.W. [sic] Cruttenden, who pulled Bader out of his machine, said he was badly injured but conscious. “I was standing on the aerodrome,” he said “and saw Douglas Bader attempt a ‘slow-roll’ at an impossible height – as low as 120 feet. I dashed towards the circling machine, for I knew he must crash. His machine nose-dived to the ground, which it struck with terrific force.”

Douglas Bader was rushed to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, where, in the hands of the prominent surgeon J. Leonard Joyce (1882-1939), both of Douglas Bader’s legs were amputated – one above his knee and one below the knee.
His comment was reportedly: “Damn. Won’t be able to play rugger on Saturday.”

His refusal to give in to adversity ensured a recall to combat flying on the outbreak of war. He downed 22 enemy aircraft before being captured in 1941. Bader was knighted in 1976 for his work for disabled people. He died in 1982 aged 72.

The rather grand house in Sprotbrough is now under the ownership of a certain Trevor Miller who is one of the Miller Bro’s of Doncaster (similar to Curry’s and Comet superstores). Trevor decided to concentrate on setting up on his own rather than following the family interests and ran a TV repair shop for a great many years on the main road in Warmsworth (opposite ‘The Moathouse’ hotel.

“I’ve always admired Sir Douglas,” says Trevor, who shares the Grade II-listed rectory with his mother. “Lady Bader planted a memorial beech tree in the gardens in 2005.

But I’m 58, I’ve had the house 25 years and my daughters have grown up and left home, so it is a bit big.” As a boy Trevor played in the grounds and promised himself he would live there one day.

When he bought the house in 1983 it was a wreck, with buckets catching water dripping from the ceiling. He has spent more than £200,000 on repairs and decoration, partly funded by the sale of two acres for housing. “It was a labour of love.” He runs it as a smart b & b, with bedrooms called Douglas Bader, Spitfire and Hurricane.

The house’s 500-year-old brickwork is cloaked in a mock-gothic façade fashionable in the 1850s, when it was bought by the Church of England as a grand residence for the rector. The property originally had 24 rooms, including eight bedrooms and servants’ quarters.

A brass plaque on the stone gatepost reminds passers-by of the link with history.

For further reading on this fascinating subject along with a host of interesting photographs see – http://clydemcdonnell.blogspot.com/2011/03/douglas-r-s-bader.html

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