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Percy James Wulluns Cruttenden









Many years ago a film company was researching for a film about Douglas Bader, the famous Second World War fighter pilot. Agents were sent to Australia to find the man who saved Bader's life in an air crash in 1931. After interviewing several Cruttenden families and one or two Jack Cruttenden they did not find the elusive saviour. To quote from 'Reach for the Sky', Paul Brickhill, Collins, 1954:-

Photograph: The crash 1931. Bader's shoes can be seen in the right foreground.

A big ruddy faced young man stood there instead of the man in the white coat, and leaned in and started undoing his harness, saying things in a gentle voice. He let him go ahead, and then became unconscious for a while.

Jack Cruttenden, the big man, an Australian student pilot at the club, found he could not lift Bader out of the crushed cockpit. He started tearing bits of the wreckage and other men did the same. Someone brought a hacksaw and cut away a twisted centre-section strut. Bader partly came to and sensed more than knew that Cruttenden was gently lifting him out.

Consciousness was lapping and receding in waves. He was lying on the grass. Someone was taking his shoes off. Cruttenden's hands were doing something to his right knee: they felt very strong and were covered in blood. He felt no pain. A little to one side two white doors with red crosses opened and the crosses went out of sight. He supposed it was an ambulance.

Then he was lying on a stretcher and men were bent over his legs. He tried to sit up but could not get very far and watched the men with detached interest. The legs of his overalls and trousers had 

gone somewhere, and Cruttenden's fingers seemed to be in his right knee (holding the femoral artery). After a few moments he got bored with watching. He could feel the ambulance was moving and wanted to see what was happening outside. He said to Cruttenden: "Look, I think I'll get up now. I want to get out of here."

He started struggling up on his elbows and Cruttenden said: "Take it easy. Won't be long now."

Bader said petulantly: " Oh, to hell with this. I want to get out now. This is damn silly."

He tried to struggle up again, and Cruttenden took one hand from the knee and pressed it gently against his chest to hold him down.

Being held down by a stranger was irritating. He twisted a shoulder off the stretcher, hooked his right fist up and hit Cruttenden on the chin. He felt he could not hit very hard lying down.

Cruttenden, looking at him with a pacifying grin said: "Ease it up mate."

Having hit him, Bader felt suddenly feeble and foolish. But honour was satisfied - he'd made the gesture - and anyway he'd completely lost interest in getting up now. He lay back and did not remember any more.

The ambulance weaved swiftly through the Reading traffic, swung into Redlands Road and stopped in front of the Casualty door of the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

Bader's Log Book (now at the RAF Museum, Hendon) records that he was flying a Bulldog serial K1676 from Kenley X-country to Reading at 1.05 pm. Bader then notes. 'Crashed slow rolling near ground. Bad show'.

A little research in the Reading local paper would have revealed:

The Reading Standard - Saturday, December 19, 1931


Plane Smashed and Pilot Seriously Injured


A Royal Air Force single-seater aeroplane was smashed and its pilot seriously injured when it crashed at Woodley Aerodrome on Monday morning. The pilot was Pilot Officer D.R.S. Bader the well-known Rugby footballer, and he was taken to the Royal Berkshire Hospital with multiple internal and other injuries. It was found necessary to amputate his right leg, and he is in a critical condition.


Eye-witnesses state that the aeroplane belonging to the 23rd Fighter Squadron at Kenley, was doing a "slow--roll" at a low altitude when it nose-dived to the ground. That he escaped alive is regarded as remarkable.

Pilot G.J.W. [sic] Cruttenden, who pulled Bader out of his machine, said he was badly injured but conscious. "I was standing on the aerodrome," he said "and saw Bader attempt a 'slow-roll' at an impossible height - as low as 120 feet. I dashed towards the circling machine, for I knew he must crash. His machine nose-dived to the ground, which it struck with terrific force."

Mr P.W. Adams, secretary of the Harlequins told a reporter that Bader had played for the Harlequins for two years. "He was a fine player and one of the most popular members of the team. I think his game at Teddington on Saturday against Old Merchant Taylors was the best of his career. He played magnificently. He is keenly interested in sport generally and has played cricket as well as football. He represented the R.A.F. at cricket on many occasions. He seems to have a genius for everything he takes up. He is one of the most brilliant officers in the R.A.F., and I have heard him described as the finest stunt pilot in the service. It is a tragedy that he should have lost a leg. It means that one of the best Rugby players we have is out of the game."


Mr Howard Marshall, in the "Daily Telegraph" writes - "Bader was one of the most promising of the younger players and he had represented the Combined Services, the R.A.F., and the Harlequins in the centre and stand-off half. Strong running and speed off the mark were his particular assets and I remember particularly a brilliant break through last year which started a scoring movement and turned the tide for the Air Force against the Army. It was obvious that a new and potentially great stand-off half had arrived."

On Friday morning it was stated that Pilot Officer Bader showed some improvement although his condition was still critical.

Percy James Wulluns Cruttenden

Percy James Wulluns Cruttenden was born on 16 August 1905 at Hurtchington Farm, Bexhill, Sussex. He was the only child of James Alfred Cruttenden and Louise Wulluns. Whilsts Percy's father came from Bexhill his mother came from Canton de Vaud in Switzerland.

In all probability Percy would have attended a local school and at age 14 would have gone out to work. By the time he was 17 he was a Farm Labourer. There must have been something of his mother's sense of adventure to travel as he left England aboard the Esperance Bay on 10 April 1923 arriving in Fremantle on 11 May.

He returned to England before 18 October 1931 when he qualified for a private pilots licence at Reading Aero Club, Woodley. At this time he records his occupation as being with the Police. 'Aussie Cruttenden was well known at Woodley and bought an Avro Avian. His association with Woodley ended around August 1932. This may have been due to a change of career and marriage. 

[Photograph: RAF Museum Hendon]

On 17 July 1933 Percy joined the Civil Service at Lewes as a Prison Officer. Soon afterwards he transferred to Cardiff, where he spent most of his working life. In 1933 he married Tetdora Anna Oltmans, possibly originally from Belgium.

However, Percy's flying career was not over. With the outbreak of War there was a shortage of qualified pilots. Rather than using fit young men a scheme was put in place to recruit older men and women to form a ferry service the Air Transport Auxiliary. Percy served with the ATA as First Officer from 1 July 1941 until 21 August 1945.

After the war he returned to Cardiff and retired from the Prison Service in January1961. Shortly afterwards he was awarded the Imperial Service Medal for his time serving the country with the Prison Service.

Percy retired to Brighton where he died in October 1978.

Ian Cruttenden 2005

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