Lilian Bader was one of the first black women to join the British Armed Forces during World War II. She dealt with discrimination and racism, but she rose up through the ranks and left one hell of a legacy for those who followed in her footsteps.
Born in 1918, Lilian grew up in Liverpool, England. She was the youngest of three. Her dad, Marcus Bailey, was born in Barbados and acted as a merchant seaman during WWI.
Their mum walked out when Lilian was very young, so she lived with her father in Hull. Tragically, her dad then passed away when she was 9 years old, so Lilian was separated from her brothers and placed in a convent, where she stayed until she was 20.
THE RISE OF LILIAN
Lilian worked as a cleaner until WWII broke out.
Girl wasn’t going to stick around scrubbing loos when she could do way more. So she immediately joined the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes in Yorkshire, working in the canteen, until it was discovered her father was of West Indian Heritage.
See, they didn’t allow recruits with that background, so she was released from her post.
Was Lilian put off? FUCK NO!
She bided her time, and soon found out that the Royal Air Force (RAF) was accepting applicants with West Indian Heritage! HUZZAH!
Lil was enlisted to the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in March of 1941. Our gal had made it!
Sadly, life can be a total bastard. Just two weeks into her training, Lilian’s older brother James was lost at sea (he’d decided to become a merchant seaman like his father, and signed up to help with the war effort). Lilian took some compassionate leave to deal with her loss, then got right back to training.
Lilian completed her training and became a fully certified instrument repairer for the RAF. She then rose through the ranks and was made a Leading Aircraftwoman (LACW) in December 1941. She quickly climbed the ladder again and was made Acting Corporal.
An instrument repairer, Lilian took care of planes and all the machine equipment. She was responsible for checking the function of all the planes before take off, so her role was vital in keeping the pilots safe.
From not being allowed to serve food…Lil was now responsible for peoples lives. Talk about an upgrade!
TIME FOR A WEDDING!
During all her war work, Lilian somehow found time for romance. She started corresponding with Ramsay Bader, a fellow serviceman who was also of mixed race. Their relationship developed, and they got hitched in 1943.
Things got rough again when Ramsay took part in the D-Day landings on June 6th, 1944. In an interview, she said she spent time in her local chapel praying for her husband’s safe return: "It was a terrible time because you knew people were going to be killed and Ramsay couldn't swim!"
He survived and came home to her.
Lilian was dismissed from the RAF in 1944 to have the first of her two sons.
After leaving the RAF, Lilian went back to school to get the qualifications she needed to become a teacher — and she carried on teaching well into her 80s. This woman was utterly amazing.
She passed away in 2015 at the age of 97.
Since Lil broke down those barriers, three, yes THREE, generations of her family have served in the armed forces.
This was interesting, where can I find out more? Lilian actually wrote a book on her time working in the RAF, called Together – Lilian Bader: Wartime Memoirs of a WAAF 1939-1944, which was published by the Imperial War Museum.
This post originally appeared on F Yeah History and is reprinted here with permission.
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