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Obituary: War hero Lilian Bader (1918-2015)

WAR HERO: Lilian Bader

SECOND WORLD War servicewoman Lilian Bader passed away in Dorset on March 13 2015 at the age of 97.

Feisty, outspoken but not without a sense of humour, Lilian was proud of the fact that, by the end of the twentieth century, three generations of her family had served in the British Armed Services.

We remained friends and in 2012 I featured her in my book The Motherland Calls – Britain’s Black Servicemen and Women 1939-45.

Lilian was born in 1918 in the Toxteth Park area of Liverpool to Marcus Bailey, a merchant seaman from Barbados who served in the First World War, and a British-born mother of Irish parents.

When the Second World War broke out, Lilian joined the NAAFI at Catterick Camp, Yorkshire but she was asked to leave when her father’s Bajan heritage was discovered. However, Lilian was determined to ‘do her bit’ for the war effort and in 1941 she was enlisted with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

In the WAAF Lilian trained as an Instrument Repairer, one of the new trades open to women. In December 1941 Lilian became a Leading Aircraftwoman (LACW) and soon gained the rank of Acting Corporal.

In 1943 Lilian married a British-born black soldier called Ramsay Bader. He was a tank driver who was serving with the 147th (Essex Yeomanry) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. Further promotion in the WAAF was curtailed when she discovered she was expecting a baby. She received her discharge in February 1944.

Lilian and Ramsay had two sons and, when they had grown up, Lilian studied for a Bachelor of Arts degree at London University and then became a teacher.

In 1989 Lilian’s memoir, Together – Lilian Bader: Wartime Memoirs of a WAAF 1939-1944, was published by the Imperial War Museum.

WE SALUTE YOU: Lilian Bader (right, wearing white blouse) with members of the West Indian Ex-Services Association

On 7 August 1990, in BBC2’s discussion programme Hear-Say, Lilian joined a group of ex-service men and women from the former African and Caribbean colonies. They debated the pros and cons of supporting Britain in the two world wars with members of a younger, critical generation.

When some of the younger members of the audience failed to understand why black people from across the British Empire joined the war effort, Lilian explained why she had joined the WAAF: “We [black people] would have ended up in the ovens.”

Lilian understood that, if Hitler had invaded England, Britain’s black citizens would have suffered the fate of black people in Nazi Germany and occupied Europe: they would have been rounded up and interned in concentration camps.

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