A (Literal) Brush with Greatness

By Lt. Col. (Ret.) John A. Dicker

Word had spread earlier in the week of December 12, 1980, amongst the staff at the Canadian Defence Liaison Staff (London) office in London, England that Sir Douglas Bader, the famed WWII RAF fighter pilot and hero, would be paying a visit to the Senior Air Liaison Officer Col. Creelman at 11 a.m. on Friday 12 December. At the time, I was an Army Liaison Officer in the rank of Major. Notwithstanding my Army background, I was very aware of the legendary Douglas Bader and thought that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capitalize on his visit.

To this end, I asked Col. Creelman if I obtained a copy of Sir Douglas’ book Fight for the Sky, did he think it would be appropriate to ask him to autograph it for me during his upcoming visit. Col. Creelman saw no problem with that so I hustled over to Foyles Book Store early in the week and purchased a copy. Three more copies were subsequently purchased by other members of the staff for the same reason.

At approximately 10:45 on the day of the visit, I had to go downstairs to the main entrance of the building for some reason (CDLS (L) was located on the fourth floor of MacDonald House). While there, talking to the receptionist, I happened to glance out into the visitors’ waiting area located on the other side of the glass security wall and who should be sitting there alone, but Sir Douglas himself! I could scarcely believe my eyes. I asked the receptionist if she knew who he was and she said that he had told her that he had an appointment at 11 a.m. with Col. Creelman, that he was a tad early and asked her to wait until just before eleven to inform the colonel that he had arrived. No doubt this was the way things were done in Sir Douglas’ day. That notwithstanding I immediately called Col. Creelman who came down right way and escorted Sir Douglas upstairs.

Douglas Bader signed all four books and while doing so, took the time to hand-correct each book in several places where, as he stated, the information was either inaccurate or outright incorrect. So, not only did each of us have a personally autographed book by the author himself, we had our books corrected by him, with his own pen — a rare treasure indeed!

Sir Douglas Bader signing our books.

After the book signing, the scheduled meeting between Col. Creelman and Sir Douglas took place behind closed doors in the colonel’s office. Adjacent to his office was the office of a fellow staff officer and friend of mine, Lt. Cmdr. Dunc Mathieson. Dunc and I waited in his office with the door shut until we thought that the meeting had ended next door and that Col. Creelman and Sir Douglas had departed (the indications to be the sound of the colonel’s door opening and fading voices as they proceeded down the narrow hallway). Thinking I would be able to catch a final glimpse of Douglas Bader walking down the hallway on his two artificial legs and smoking his ever present pipe, I quickly opened Dunc’s door and rushed into the hallway only to bump smack into Sir Douglas almost sending him “flying” (much to Col. Creelman’s horror).

After apologising profusely to Sir Douglas for what had happened, I distinctly and always will remember him saying to me, “that’s quite all right old chap!” He then proceeded, unruffled by the incident, down the hallway and on his merry way.

And that is the story of how I bumped into Sir Douglas Bader on that most memorable day in London, so many years ago.

And this is what he wrote.

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