The Douglas Bader centre
by Keith Deiderfield
(Secretary of the Douglas Bader Foundation)
In this appendix
War hero and sportsman
Following his untimely death in 1982, Sir Douglas Bader’s family and closest friends decided that the life of this great man and the example that he had set in combating the severest of disabilities, even when the odds of achieving success were overwhelmingly against him, should not go unmarked.
The achievements of Sir Douglas Bader in overcoming the trauma of losing both legs as a result of an aeroplane accident whilst still in his youthful prime and his never ending fight to minimise the effect of his disability on his life along with his heroic exploits while serving in the Royal Air Force during World War 2, are well chronicled. Many of us will have read the book or seen the film “Reach for the Sky” and can only feel humility and admiration at such courage.
Prior to his accident the young Bader had been an extremely accomplished sportsman excelling, in particular, on the cricket pitch and rugby field. Despite the accident his thirst to compete and pursue sporting excellence led him to the golf course where he found a new challenge. With his customary grit, determination and pride he quickly mastered the tricks of balance and developed the stability needed for the game. He perfected his own style which enabled him to compete with allcomers and improve his golfing handicap eventually playing off a very creditable “four”.
Throughout his life his love of sport never deserted him. He always took a keen interest and was never short of a few words of encouragement or advice and, when appropriate, criticism.
An amputee that fights back…
On leaving the RAF Douglas Bader joined the Shell group of companies and in 1952, as aircraft operations expanded, he became Managing Director of the newly formed Shell Aircraft Ltd after which he went on to become a member of the Civil Aviation Authority.
In the course of his business activities he travelled the globe but, despite the demanding time schedule of executive management or the geographical location in which he found himself, he always made the time to help others with disabilities regardless of their race, colour or creed. He shared his own experiences and used his own achievements as an example to them always promoting his belief in the philosophy of self sufficiency and his belief that “An amputee who fights back is not disabled – He is impaired!”
It was for his tireless voluntary work in this field that Douglas Bader was knighted in 1976.
The sporting interests and achievements of Sir Douglas Bader coupled with his work and effort in improving “the lot” of disabled people throughout the world and his thirst for positive action rather than meaningless words, persuaded his family and friends to establish the Douglas Bader Foundation with a view to furthering his philosophy. It was agreed that a centre should be built to assist rehabilitation and provide sporting, recreational and leisure opportunities for those with disabilities.
The Douglas Bader Centre
Work began in finding a suitable site on which to build such a Centre. Eventually the site of the old leather shop at Queen Mary’s University Hospital was offered to the Foundation for their development by Richmond, Twickenham and Roehampton Health Authority. No other location was more appropriate as it was here that Sir Douglas had been introduced to his new legs and a new way of life and where his medical needs were met for some 50 years.
Architectural plans were prepared for the new Centre in the estates department of RTR. By the end of 1991 the Douglas Bader Foundation had raised sufficient funds for building work to commence and on 25th February 1993 Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales, Patron of the Foundation, officially opened the Douglas Bader Centre. By now the success of the fund raising effort provided finance not just to build, furnish and equip the Centre but also to fund the first 2 years of operation, financial responsibility eventually passing to RTR on 1st April 1995.
Today the Centre is the headquarters of the Douglas Bader Foundation and part of the world famous Roehampton Rehabilitation Centre. It provides a range of facilities for use by disabled members of the community as well as patients and staff of RTR, including a multi‑purpose sports hall with adjacent shower and changing facilities, a fitness gym, general purpose area and comfortable licensed lounge. It is very well equipped, pleasantly furnished and qualified staff are always on hand to assist individuals or organise group activities. Since the summer of 1995 it has provided a new permanent home for the Walking School and a number of Rehabilitation Therapy Groups organised by the Physiotherapy Department.
The aim of the Centre is not to duplicate or to act as a substitute for the work undertaken by the medical authorities but to provide the right environment for people with disabilities to enjoy their leisure activity time in whatever way they wish with their families or friends, to provide an additional leisure and fitness facility for the staff of RTR and to assist with both clinical and social rehabilitation.
It is difficult to measure the success of a centre such as this in any other way than by participation. By applying the philosophy of Sir Douglas Bader and by demonstrating the same single minded determination as he did, then the aims of the Foundation will be achieved and the Douglas Bader Centre will continue to flourish.