One of the very first Black women to join the British Armed Forces, Lilian Bader was born in Liverpool to Marcus Bailey, a merchant seaman from Barbados who served in the First World War, and a British-born mother of Irish parentage.

In 1927 she, and her two brothers, were orphaned when their father died.

At the age of 9 she was separated from her brothers and placed in a convent, where she remained until she was 20.

Bader has explained that it was difficult to find employment 'because of her father's origins: "My casting out from the convent walls was delayed. I was half West Indian, and nobody, not even the priests, dare risk ridicule by employing me."

In 1939, at the onset of the Second World War, Bader enlisted in the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) at Catterick Camp, Yorkshire. She was dismissed after seven weeks when it was discovered that her father was not born in the United Kingdom.

On 28 March 1941 she enlisted in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), after she heard that the Royal Air Force (RAF) were taking citizens of West Indian descent. She trained in instrument repair, which was a trade newly opened to women.

Lilian Bader then became a Leading Aircraft Woman and was eventually promoted to the rank of corporal.