Black British women pioneers: Lilian Bader

Who are they?

Lilian Bader (1918-2015) was a leading aircraftwoman. Born in Liverpool to a Barbadian father, who served in the Royal Navy, and an Irish mother, Bader went on to be raised in a convent after being orphaned at age 9. Lilian Bader worked in a Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes canteen briefly during the outbreak of war in 1939 before being forced to leave because she was Black, or rather, due to her father being born outside of the U.K.

What did she do?

In 1941, Bader volunteered to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and trained as an Instrument Repairer, where she passed with a First Class all whilst receiving news of her brother’s passing at sea. The training achievement made Bader one of the first women in the air force to qualify in that trade. In RAF Shawbury, Bader worked long hours fault-checking the instruments of the aircrafts; she was soon promoted to Acting Corporal.

Having studied for a degree at a University of London, Bader became a teacher of languages in the post-war era, and continued to teach private pupils after her retirement. Bader’s younger son then flew helicopters in the Royal Navy, and was inspired to become an airline pilot.

Why is she important?

She was one of the first black women to join the British Armed Forces, making her an inspiration for paving the way for other black women to join what would have been an unconventional career path. Further, Bader contributed greatly for the Caribbean community to World War Two. Lastly, Lilian Bader fought against racism and prejudice all her life, writing letters to the media and politicians; she wrote to the Imperial war museum and to journalists on the story of her family of African descent, who fought for Britain during two world wars, and she successively appeared on several television programmes. Bader was invited to the inauguration of the Commonwealth Memorial Gates in Hyde Park, 2002, to meet the Queen. Bader’s determination was that the contribution of Black and Asian Britons to the country’s defence would be recognised as well as remembered.

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