Today would’ve been Roald Dahl’s 104th birthday.
The children’s author’s books, including classics such as Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, are beloved by millions – both young and old – around the world..
But did you know that he was also a spy, an ace fighter pilot, a chocolate historian and a medical inventor?
He joined the Royal Air Force at the start of World War II where he received severe injuries when his plane crashed in North Africa.
After spending six months recovering in a hospital in Alexandria, Egypt, Dahl then rejoined his squadron in Greece and took part in The Battle of Athens in 1941.
In 2018, his family received the medals that he was awarded but never collected. The medals are the 1939-1945 Star, which is given to those who served overseas during World War Two; the Africa Star, for those who served in North Africa between 1940-43; the Defence Medal, awarded for non-operational service; and the War Medal, awarded to all full-time armed forces personnel.
His grandson, Ned Donovan told the BBC: “It’s very him for him not to have collected his medals – he’d have thought it was terribly uncool!”
After the war ended, Roald accepted a position in the British embassy in Washington D.C.
During his time there. Dahl began his literary career – that would go on to span 34 books, five play scripts and screen plays, and assorted other works – while passing on information to MI6.
He also married notable American actress Patricia Neal and they go on to have two daughters, one of whom passes away at a young age due to illness, and a son. They divorced after 30 years, and he later married Felicity “Liccy” Crosland, who helped to further Roald’s legacy through the Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity and The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre.
In 1960 Roald helped invent the Wade-Dahl-Till valve, with engineer Stanley Wade and neurosurgeon Kenneth Till, to help treat his son’s head injuries that were caused by an accident in New York.
While we could go on about Dahl’s numerous accomplishments, we’re going to end this introspection on a sweet note – his life-long love of chocolate.
It began when began he, along with his school classmates, were tasked with taste-testing different chocolate creations. As an adult, he devoted an entire chapter in his official ‘The Roald Dahl Cookbook’ to chocolate.
In fact, during a speech to schoolchildren, Roald highlighted his growing love of chocolate by listing what he considered as important dates in confectionery history:
“Cadburys made Dairy Milk in 1905
Cadburys made Bourneville Bar in 1910
Cadburys made Fruit and Nut in 1921…
1930 the Crunchie, the Whole Nut Bar
’32 Mars (600 million a year)”
’33 Black Magic
’34 Tiffin, Caramello
’36 Maltesers… Quality Street
’37 Another great year, Kit Kat, Rollo [sic], Smarties…”
He ended by saying: “Don’t bother with the Kings and Queens of England. All of you should learn these dates instead. Perhaps the Headmistress will see from now on that it becomes part of the major teaching in this school.”
We can’t think of a better way to honour his enduring legacy than by celebrating with a batch of chocolate and watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.