Black History Month Firsts: Lilian Bader

The contributions and efforts of Lilian Bader to World War Two for the Caribbean community actually starts before her birth, with her Fathers contribution in World War One.

Marrying in 1913, Marcus Bailey was a Barbadian born migrant who found himself in England, coupled with an English born, Irish raised woman* on the outbreak of war. The possibility of a happy family was postponed as war broke out in 1914 and Marcus would find himself serving in the Royal Navy as a Merchant Seaman until the war finished.


However, upon the wars end, the Baileys would parent three children, one of which would be Lilian Bader. Born in 1918, she would go onto be quite possibly the first Black woman to join the British Armed Forces.

The influence of Lilian’s father in her decision to join the Armed Forces is questionable as Lilian and her two older brothers would be orphaned when she was nine years old due to an unknown incident.

Now without parents, the trio would be separated and Lilian would have to battle her personal losses with racial prejudice at a young age. Despite her struggles, Lilian would go on to be a class leading student and popular friend, setting herself up for a bright future in any career she could want.

The reality of being a Mixed Raced Woman, in Britain in the early 1930’s, would be one her intelligence and popularity would never be able to escape and at the age of twenty, Lilian would still be at the Convent she joined as a nine year old, simply because nobody was willing to hire her for work.

However, the outbreak of World War Two in 1939 would be a surprisingly positive point for Lilian who now found herself accepted as a Canteen Assistant at NAAFI, Catterick Camp and away from the convent for the first time.

It took only seven weeks for Lilian to be disappointed, as she was sacked from her role due to the fact her father was born outside of the UK.

The story is, is that the District Manager had toyed with the decision for several weeks, sympathizing with Lilian’s Irish and Roman Catholic backgrounds as he himself was Irish and Roman Catholic.

Determined not to let her background be a stumbling block, Lilian found work again in January 1940. Now working on a farm near RAF Topcliffe, Lilian was once again feeding soldiers who ventured outside of the base.

She would leave the farm voluntarily and would take up the role of a domestic servant until 1941, where a chance to join the army once again surfaced.

“I heard some West Indians being interviewed on the radio… They’d been turned down by the Army and accepted by the RAF.”

Lilian was accepted into the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force on 28th March, 1941 and was sent to York. Yet turmoil was to strike once more for Lilian and two weeks into her training, her Brother would be lost at sea whilst serving as a Merchant Seaman, just like their father.

Returning from compassionate leave, Lilian embarked on a twelve-week training course, qualifying her as an Instrument repairer; a relatively new job that had been made available to women in 1940.

Her academic prowess and personable nature once again shone through and after passing several exams, Lilian graduated as a First Class Airwoman and was soon in Shropshire where her skills saw her being promoted to Corporal and leading Aircraftwoman.

The true influence of Lilian and her crew is difficult to fathom. As servicewomen, their role may have been limited to running routine repairs and replacing sensitive equipment. However, the simplicity of their work does not negate its importance. Furthermore, the sheer scale of the work these women undertook was of a magnitude many would have found reason not to enjoy. It is because of their importance and well-documented professionalism that I could consider Lilian Bader for our ‘Community Heroes’ section, but as her achievement is something worth of note, Lilian Bader fits well within our ‘BHM Firsts’ – no question.

Lilian would go onto marry another mixed raced serviceman, Ramsay Bader in 1943 and in 1944; would be granted compassionate leave as she left to start a family with the Tank driver.

Lilian Bader’s achievements do not stop once she left the army. Now a mother of two children, she sought it necessary to go back to school, achieving the necessary ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels to secure a degree at University of London; a degree that would let her go onto be a teacher.

Lilian Bader passed away earlier this year at the age of 97.

Special thanks to the Ministry of Defence.

*Lilian did not remember her mothers name due to the nature of her passing whilst Lilian and her Brothers were so young. As such, her mothers name has not been openly documented.


According to ‘England and Wales Marriages 1837 – 2008’, Marcus Bailey married Lilian McGowan in Fylde, Lancashire in 1913. (Vol 8E, p 1364, line 105).

The Lilian McGowan who married Marcus Bailey in Fylde in 1913 may be the ‘Lillian McGowan’ listed in the 1901 census as the daughter of Peter and Annie McGowan, both born in Ireland. Her birthplace is given as ‘Derby, Derbyshire’ but in 1901 she is living at 24 Fenton Road, Blackpool. (Blackpool is within the Fylde registration district.) She is listed as 9 years old.

A Lilian McGowan was born in 1903: but not in Derbyshire. She was born in ‘West Derby’, which is actually an area of Lancashire, now part of Liverpool. (See ‘England and Wales Births 1837 – 2006’, Vol 8B, page 456, line 345.)

    Thank you! This is excellent.

Hi There, I do believe this picture is of WW2
Leading Aircraftwoman Sonia Thompson from Kingston, Jamaica

Just came across this by accident and read the comment by Annie dated 28/04/2018. Just to set the record straight I can confirm with all certainty that this picture is of Lilian Bader. I grew up with this picture on display in our house – she was my mother.

Geoff . I stumbled across the history of your mother today and as a Liverpool native I’m gobsmacked I’ve never heard of her before. I’d love to include her in a event I’m organising next year which is sort of a location treasure hunt celebrates women and their achievements if there is a positive location you can suggest we can put as a marker? Again gobsmacked there isnt a blue plaque somewhere!

I’m from the British Plaque Trust and would love to speak to you Geoff. Could you email me at

Hello as you know i am Ali from the Royalty family and i would really like if you could come to my house tomorrow and give us a interview and as a reward you will earn 1K dollars. Make sure to come at 12 or 1 am. My son Ferran would really like to meat you. I really hope you come.

Yours sincerely

Ali (Royalty Family)

wow thats cool yeah.

terrabally bad that black people were slaves

A woman was the first woman to enter in the army her dad died and she had 2 brothers or 3 and also she started in the army at nine and also she started the army then was getting a new job as A teacher she married a mixed Marcus Bailey she has 2 children of her own and she died at 97 years old she was forcey to go back to school .

I liked that She was the first woman in the army.

Hi Geoff,

I have been working on an education pack about your Mum, and amazing lady; called

An Unknown History. Would love to share this with you.

We like minecraft

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