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Roald Dahl: The WWII Pilot Who Narrowly Cheated Death

Today, schools and bookshops across the country will be celebrating Roald Dahl Day.

Although famous for his much-loved children’s literature, the author also served as an RAF Pilot during the Second Wold War.

The story of his time in the RAF is chronicled in his second autobiography, Going Solo.

In honour of what would have been his birthday, we take a look at his time in the military.

Dahl was born in Llandaff, South Wales on September 13, 1916, and passed away in 1990 at the age of 74.

In November 1939, the 23-year-old Dahl travelled to Nairobi to enlist in the RAF flying Tiger Moths alongside 15 other young men. At well over 6ft tall, Roald was worried that his height would get in the way of his becoming a pilot.

Fortunately, at his medical he was told by the doctor:

"Well I have a minimum height for pilots but no maximum, so as you are fit, you'll do".

Once he had joined up, his height gained him the nickname “lofty”.

It’s fair to say that, alongside writing, flying was Dahl’s passion; he described it to his mother as “marvellous fun”.

Once he had completed his training, he was posted to 80 Squadron who were then based in North Africa. It was here that his adventure really began.

On 19th September 1940, Dahl was tasked with delivering a new aircraft to his Squadron.

He was told to land on the North African Coastline, where he would be informed of his final destination.

Leaving with only an hour left of daylight, Dahl was forced to make an emergency landing in the desert as the aircraft overturned.

Knocked unconscious by the impact of the landing, Dahl came round to find his aircraft on fire.

In the nick of time, he unstrapped himself from the aircraft and crawled away from the wreckage, and was thankfully rescued the following morning by the Suffolk Regiment, badly injured.

After his disastrous crash-landing, he spent four months recovering in a rehabilitation centre, before once again being declared fit to fly.

On rejoining 80 Squadron, he began to fly the Hurricane MK1 - the first aircraft to feature an enclosed cockpit, causing issues for the tall pilot.

It was whilst flying the Hurricane that Dahl shot down his first enemy aircraft - a feat which he documents in his second autobiography Going Solo.

Dahl was also involved in the so-called “Battle of Athens”, in which a squadron of 12 Hurricanes was attacked by over 200 German aircraft.

Luckily, Roald managed to land safely despite losing rudder control.

It wasn’t until the end of the Second World War that Roald became a full-time writer, gifting the world with some of the finest children’s literature ever written and cementing his place in history as one of our greatest authors.

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