Living Memorial | Lilian Bader
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Lilian Bader

1918 - 2015

About This Project

Lilian was proud that, by the end of the 20th century, three generations of her family had served in the British armed forces.


She was born in 1918 at Toxteth Park in Liverpool to Marcus Bailey, a merchant seaman from Barbados who had fought for Britain in the First World War, and Lilian, whose parents were Irish. Orphaned in 1927, Lilian junior was raised in a convent where she remained until she was 20, because no one would employ her until she got a job in domestic service. But, when the war broke out, she joined the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) at Catterick Camp, Yorkshire. But she was asked to leave when her father’s Caribbean heritage was discovered.


Lilian returned to domestic service. But she felt embarrassed when a group of soldiers expressed surprise that she was not doing war work. She asked: “How could I tell them that a coloured Briton was not acceptable, even in the humble NAAFI?”


After hearing that the RAF was accepting black recruits, Lilian managed to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in March 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.”


Her brother, merchant seaman James Bailey, was killed in action. Bader trained as an instrument repairer, one of the new trades open to women. In December 1941, she became a leading aircraftwoman and soon afterwards was an acting corporal.


Lilian met a young British-born black soldier, Ramsay Bader. He was a tank driver. They married in 1943 and Lilian had to leave the forces the following year when she fell pregnant.


The couple had two sons and when they had grown up, Lilian studied for a degree at London University and then became a teacher. In 1989, her memoir, Together – Lilian Bader: Wartime Memoirs of a WAAF 1939-1944, was published.


She died in March 2015. Read her obituary here.



United Kingdom

Royal Air Force