Image credit: African Stories in Hull and East Yorkshire 

5 OCTOBER 2018

This month we're celebrating a black British woman every day of Black History Month for #REMEMBERHERNAME 

Throughout her life, Lilian Bader overcame discrimination and racism to become one of the first Black Women to join the Royal Air Force.

Born in Liverpool in 1917, Bader was orphaned at the age of 9 and separated from her brothers to live in a convent. She remained there until the age of 20 because no one would employ her.

Despite the barriers she faced, Bader eventually gained a job at a Navy, Army and Air Forces Institute canteen in Yorkshire, but was forced to leave when it was discovered her father was of West Indian heritage.

After finding out that the RAF was accepting recruits with a West Indian background, she was enlisted with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1941. She found herself "the only coloured person in this sea of white faces", but "somebody told me I looked smart in my uniform, which cheered me no end."

In the WAAF, Bader trained as an instrument repairer, one of the new trades open to women. By the end of 1941, she was a Leading Aircraftwoman (LACW) at RAF Shawbury where she worked long hours checking for faults in the instruments of the aircrafts. She soon gained the rank of Acting Corporal.

In 1943, Bader married Ramsay Bader, a fellow serviceman who was also of mixed race heritage. When she fell pregnant in 1944, she was discharged from the WAAF. After the war, Lilian studied for a degree at London University and went on to become a teacher, a profession she followed well into her 80s. Her younger son flew helicopters in the Royal Navy and later became an airline pilot. 

By the end of the 20th century, three generations of her family had served in the British Armed Forces.

Father served in the First World War, his three children served in the Second World War. I married a coloured man who was in the Second World War, as was his brother who was decorated for bravery in Burma. Their father also served in the First World War. Our son was a helicopter pilot, he served in Northern Ireland. So all in all, I think we’ve given back more to this country than we’ve received.

- Lilian Bader

In 1989, Bader's memoir, Together – Lilian Bader: Wartime Memoirs of a WAAF 1939-1944, was published. She died in March 2015. Read her obituary here.


What can you do to support this Black History Month?

Check out these organizations: 

You can also read Fawcett's research on The Gender Pay Gap by Ethnicity to find out more about how the pay gap affects women of colour, and our Invisible Women report exploring how race, faith, ethnicity, age, disability, sexuality, location and employment status can combine with gender to create distinct and particularly troubling experiences of discrimination and inequality.