Podcast Episode 232: The Indomitable Spirit of Douglas Bader


Douglas Bader was beginning a promising career as a British fighter pilot when he lost both legs in a crash. But that didn’t stop him — he learned to use artificial legs and went on to become a top flying ace in World War II. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review Bader’s inspiring story and the personal philosophy underlay it.

We’ll also revisit the year 536 and puzzle over the fate of a suitcase.


In 1872 Celia Thaxter published an unsettling poem about an iceberg.

In 193 the Praetorian Guard auctioned off the Roman empire.

Sources for our story on Douglas Bader:

Paul Brickhill, Reach for the Sky, 1954.

S.P. Mackenzie, Bader’s War, 2008.

Andy Saunders, Bader’s Last Fight, 2007.

Joel Ralph, “Their Finest Hour,” Canada’s History 95:6 (December 2015/January 2016), 22-31.

Paul Laib, “Bader, Sir Douglas Robert Steuart,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, May 19, 2011.

A.W.G. English, “Psychology of Limb Loss,” BMJ: British Medical Journal 299:6710 (Nov. 18, 1989), 1287.

“Obituary,” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 130:5315 (October 1982), 750-751.

The Douglas Bader Foundation.

Neil Tweedie, “Tribute to a Very British Hero,” Daily Telegraph, Aug. 10, 2001, 10.

“Reaching for the Sky: Lady Bader Unveils Statue in Honour of Sir Douglas,” Birmingham Post, Aug. 10, 2001, 6.

“Who Really Shot Down Douglas Bader?” Daily Telegraph, Aug. 9, 2001, 23.

Arifa Akbar, “In Memory of a Legendary Hero,” [Darlington, UK] Northern Echo, Aug. 8, 2001, 8.

“Sir Douglas Bader, Legless RAF Ace Who Shot Down 22 German Planes,” Associated Press, Sept. 6, 1982, 1.

“Sir Douglas Bader, World War II Ace,” Associated Press, Sept. 5, 1982.

Herbert Mitgang, “He Fought Sitting Down,” New York Times, Nov. 17, 1957.

“Legless British Pilot to Aid Veterans Here,” New York Times, May 7, 1947.

“Legless Air Hero Enters British Title Golf Event,” New York Times, April 5, 1946.

“Legless RAF Ace Honored,” New York Times, Nov. 28, 1945.

“Bader, Legless RAF Flier, Freed by Yanks in Reich,” New York Times, April 19, 1945.

“Germans Recapture Flier Bader As He Tries Out Those New Legs; Bader Is Caught Trying to Escape,” New York Times, Sept. 29, 1941.

“Bader Gets New Artificial Leg, But Escape Attempt Fails,” [Washington D.C.] Evening Star, Sept. 29, 1941 A-4.

“Legless Pilot Honored; Bader, Now War Prisoner, Gets Bar to Flying Cross,” New York Times, Sept. 5, 1941.

“Epic of Bader’s Leg,” New York Times, Aug. 21, 1941.

“R.A.F., on Sweep, Drops Artificial Leg for Bader,” New York Times, Aug. 20, 1941.

“Bader Is Nazi Prisoner; Legless R.A.F. Ace Safe After Parachuting in France,” New York Times, Aug. 15, 1941.

“Bader, Legless R.A.F. Ace, Reported Missing,” New York Times, Aug. 13, 1941.

“Two British Air Force Aces, One Legless, Reported Missing,” [Washington D.C.] Evening Star, Aug. 12, 1941, A-18.

“10 Leading R.A.F. Aces Listed for Exploits,” New York Times, Jan. 10, 1941.


Bader with Flight Lieutenant Eric Ball and Pilot Officer Willie McKnight of No. 242 Squadron, Duxford, October 1940. Bader himself designed the squadron’s emblem, a boot kicking Hitler in the breeches.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “Settlement of Iceland” (accessed Jan. 4, 2019).

Wikipedia, “History of Iceland” (accessed Jan. 4, 2019).

Wikipedia, “Papar” (accessed Jan. 4, 2019).

Encyclopedia.com, “The Discovery and Settlement of Iceland” (accessed Jan. 4, 2019).

Neil Schlager, Science and Its Times: Understanding the Social Significance of Scientific Discovery, 2001.

Wikipedia, “Thule” (accessed Jan. 4, 2019).

Wikipedia, “(486958) 2014 MU69” (accessed Jan. 4, 2019).

NASA, “New Horizons Chooses Nickname for ‘Ultimate’ Flyby Target,” March 13, 2018.

“Is This the Reason Ireland Converted to Christianity?,” Smithsonian Channel, June 26, 2014.

Mike Wall, “How Halley’s Comet Is Linked to a Famine 1,500 Years Ago,” NBC News, Dec. 19 2013.

Colin Barras, “The Year of Darkness,” New Scientist 221:2952 (2014), 34-38.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Jeff King.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — you can choose the amount you want to pledge, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 231: The Halifax Explosion

Image: Flickr

In 1917, a munitions ship exploded in Halifax, Nova Scotia, devastating the city and shattering the lives of its citizens. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the events of the disaster, the largest man-made explosion before Hiroshima, and the grim and heroic stories of its victims.

We’ll also consider the dangers of cactus plugging and puzzle over why a man would agree to be assassinated.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 229: The Stone of Destiny

Image: Flickr

In 1950, four patriotic Scots broke in to Westminster Abbey to steal the Stone of Scone, a symbol of Scottish independence that had lain there for 600 years. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the memorable events of that evening and their meaning for the participants, their nation, and the United Kingdom.

We’ll also evade a death ray and puzzle over Santa’s correspondence.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 228: The Children’s Champion

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Polish educator Janusz Korczak set out to remake the world just as it was falling apart. In the 1930s his Warsaw orphanage was an enlightened society run by the children themselves, but he struggled to keep that ideal alive as Europe descended into darkness. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the children’s champion and his sacrifices for the orphans he loved.

We’ll also visit an incoherent space station and puzzle over why one woman needs two cars.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 227: The Christmas Tree Ship

herman schuenemann

In the late 1800s Chicago families bought their Christmas trees from the decks of schooners that had ferried them across Lake Michigan. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll meet Herman Schuenemann, known as “Captain Santa,” who brought Christmas to the city for 30 years until a fateful storm overtook him.

We’ll also peruse some possums and puzzle over a darkening phone.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 226: The Great Match Race


America’s first national sports spectacle took place in 1823, when the North and South sent their best horses for a single dramatic race that came to symbolize the regional tensions of a changing nation. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Great Match Race, which laid the foundations of modern American thoroughbred racing.

We’ll also ponder a parasite’s contribution to culture and puzzle over a misinformed criminal.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 225: The Great Stork Derby


When Toronto attorney Charles Vance Millar died in 1926, he left behind a mischievous will that promised a fortune to the woman who gave birth to the most children in the next 10 years. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the Great Stork Derby and the hope and controversy it brought to Toronto’s largest families during the Great Depression.

We’ll also visit some Portuguese bats and puzzle over a suspicious work crew.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 224: Lady Death


Lyudmila Pavlichenko was training for a career as a history teacher when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. She suspended her studies to enlist as a sniper in the Red Army, where she discovered a remarkable talent for shooting enemy soldiers. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll trace the career of “Lady Death,” the deadliest female sniper in history.

We’ll also learn where in the world futility.closet.podcast is and puzzle over Air Force One.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 223: The Prince of Forgers


Denis Vrain-Lucas was an undistinguished forger until he met gullible collector Michel Chasles. Through the 1860s Lucas sold Chasles thousands of phony letters by everyone from Plato to Louis the 14th, earning thousands of francs and touching off a firestorm among confused scholars. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll trace the career of the world’s most prolific forger.

We’ll also count Queen Elizabeth’s eggs and puzzle over a destroyed car.

See full show notes …