Lilian Bader: One of the first black women to join the RAF

It’s 100 years since women became part of the UK Armed Forces. Lilian Bader served her country during the Second World War.

Lilian Bader (nee Bailey) was born in Liverpool. Her father was from the West Indies and had served with the Royal Navy, her mother was white British. Lilian was orphaned at the age of nine and lived in a convent until she was 20.

Lilian was ‘let go’ from her first employment because of issues with her heritage. However, she was determined to play her part in the World War II effort. After hearing a group of West Indian soldiers on the radio talking about how they had been rejected from the Army but were able to join the Royal Air Force, Lillian quickly volunteered.

She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) at the beginning of 1941 and was one of the first women to be trained as an instrument repairer, a trade that was newly opened to women. In December 1941, Lilian became a Leading Aircraftwoman and soon gained the rank of Acting Corporal.

During the War she married a soldier called Ramsay Bader, who was a tank driver with the Army. Ramsay’s father was from Sierra Leone and his mother was white British. In February 1944 Lilian left the WAAF and she and Ramsey had two sons. Subsequently she gained a degree from London University and became a teacher.