I was maybe eleven and this was the longest book I had ever read, very different for being non-fiction, and an inspiration for a lad who found himself a real hero rather than a comic book one.
Much later, I would learn of Bader’s deplorable and openly professed views on race. He truly was a bigot of the worst kind, what we would nowadays call a white supremacist.
There was not a hint of this in Brickhill’s exciting biography, complete with photographs, which told the story of an unconventional character, plucky in the extreme, cheery in the face of every adversity, flying Spitfires and Hurricanes in combat against the Luftwaffe despite having both legs amputated, a pilot ace decorated with highest honours, shot down and escaping capture at one point by knotting together sheets and climbing out of a hospital window, before being sent to Colditz. I badly wanted a hero to admire and here was a man whom even the Germans respected.
Today, I wonder if their mutual respect wasn’t based on not so very different ideologies. I am glad I didn’t know at the time. A boy shouldn’t have all his dreams taken away.
With his confident smile and pipe, Bader looked avuncular in the black-and-white photos, not dissimilar in appearance to my Uncle Bill, who also fought in the Second World War and later had his own legs disabled by a mining accident.