Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Wales, on September 13, 1916, to Norwegian parents, Harald Dahl and Sofie Magdalene Dahl (nÃ©e Hesselberg). He was named after the explorer Roald Amundsen, a national hero in Norway at the time. In 1920, when Roald was still only three years old, his seven-year-old sister, Astri Dahl, died from appendicitis. His father Harald passed away of pneumonia soon after, at the age of 57. Nevertheless, his mother was determined to keep the family in Britain rather than head back to Norway and live with her relatives, because of her husband's wish to have their children educated in English schools as he thought they were the best schools in the world, even better than the Welsh schools.
Because the family still lived in Wales, Roald first attended Llandaff Cathedral School.
At the age of eight, Roald and four of his friends were caned by the headmaster after putting a dead mouse in a jar of sweets at the local sweet shop owned by a "mean and loathsome" old woman called Mrs Pratchett. Thereafter he was sent to several boarding schools, which was an unpleasant experience for him and his friends. He was very homesick and wrote to his mother almost every day. Only when she died did he find out she had saved every single one of his letters, in small bundles held together in green tape.
When he was nine, Roald Dahl was sent to St Peter's Preparatory school, a private school in the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare, which he attended from 1923 to 1929. From 13 he was educated at Repton School in Derbyshire, where he was a personal servant for a prefect, became captain of the school Fives team and developed an interest in photography. During his years at Repton, Cadbury, a chocolate company, would occasionally send boxes of new chocolates to the school to be tested by the pupils. Dahl himself apparently used to dream of inventing a new chocolate bar that would win the praise of Mr. Cadbury himself, and this proved the inspiration for him to write his second book for children, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Throughout his childhood and adolescent years he spent his summer holidays in his parents' native Norway. His childhood is the subject of his autobiographical work, Boy: Tales of Childhood.
Though his mother expected him to attend university after leaving school, Roald Dahl instead found a job with Shell Petroleum, which sent him to other parts of the world.
After finishing his schooling he spent three weeks hiking through Newfoundland with a group called the Public Schools' Exploring Society. In July 1934 he joined the Shell Petroleum Company. Following two years of training in the UK he was transferred to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanganyika. Along with the only two other Shell employees in the entire territory, he lived in luxury in the Shell House outside Dar-es-Salaam, with a cook and personal servants. While supplying oil to customers across Tanganyika, he faced black mambas and lions, amongst other wildlife.
In August 1939, as World War II was imminent, plans were made to round up the hundreds of Germans in Dar-es-Salaam. The fifteen or so British citizens in Dar-es-Salaam, including Dahl, were made officers each commanding a platoon of askaris of the King's African Rifles. Dahl was uneasy about this and having to round up hundreds of German civilians, but managed to complete his orders.
It was soon after this incident, in November 1939, that he joined the Royal Air Force. After a 600-mile car journey from Dar-es-Salaam to Nairobi, he was accepted for flight training with 16 other men, 13 of whom would later die in air combat. With 7 hours and 40 minutes experience in his De Havilland Tiger Moth he flew solo, and hugely enjoyed watching the wildlife of Kenya during his flights. He continued on to advanced flying training at RAF Habbaniya (50 miles west of Baghdad) in Iraq. Following six months of flying Hawker Harts he was made a Pilot Officer and assigned to No. 80 Squadron RAF, flying obsolete Gloster Gladiators. Dahl was surprised to find that he would not be trained in aerial combat, or even how to fly the Gladiator.
On September 19, 1940, Dahl was to fly his Gladiator from Abu Suweir in Egypt, on to Amiriya to refuel, and again to Fouka in Libya for a second refuelling. From there he would fly to 80 Squadron's forward airstrip 30 miles south of Mersah Matruh. On the final leg, he could not find the airstrip and, running low on fuel and with night approaching, he was forced to attempt a landing in the desert. Unfortunately, the undercarriage hit a boulder and the plane crashed, fracturing his skull, smashing his nose in, and blinding him. He managed to drag himself away from the blazing wreckage and passed out. Later, he wrote about the crash for his first published work (see below). It was found in a RAF inquiry into the crash that the location he had been told to fly to was completely wrong, and he had mistakenly been sent instead to the no man's land between the British and Italian forces.
Dahl was rescued and taken to a first-aid post in Mersah Matruh, where he regained consciousness, but not his sight, and was then taken by train to the Royal Navy hospital in Alexandria. There he fell in love with a nurse, Mary Welland, who was the first person he saw when he regained his sight after eight weeks. The doctors said he had no chance of flying again, but in February 1941, five months after he was admitted to the hospital, he was discharged and passed fully fit for flying duties. By this time, 80 Squadron were at Elevsis, near Athens, Greece, fighting alongside the British Expeditionary Force against the Axis forces with no hope of defeating them. Now upgraded to the Hawker Hurricane, in April 1941 Dahl flew one across the Mediterranean Sea to finally join his squadron in Greece, six months after becoming a member.
There he met a cynical Corporal who questioned how long his brand-new aircraft would survive, along with just 14 other Hurricanes and four Bristol Blenheims in the whole of Greece, against around a thousand enemy aircraft. 80 Squadron's Squadron Leader was similarly unenthusiastic about having just one new pilot. However, he became friends with David Coke, who, had he not been killed later in the war, would have become the Earl of Leicester.
Dahl saw his first action over Chalcis, where Junkers Ju-88s were bombing shipping. With just his lone Hurricane against the six bombers, he managed to shoot one down. He writes about all these incidents in his autobiography Going Solo. During the Greek Campaign, he scored five confirmed kills in total.
He later saw service in Syria and then worked for military intelligence. He ended the war as a Wing Commander.
He began writing when in 1942 he was transferred to Washington as Assistant Air Attache. His first published work, in the August 1, 1942 issue of the Saturday Evening Post was Shot Down Over Libya, describing the crash of his Gloster Gladiator. His original title for the work was A Piece of Cake - the title was changed to sound more dramatic, despite the fact the crash had nothing to do with enemy action.
He was married for 30 years (1953-83) to American actress Patricia Neal (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Hud, The Subject Was Roses, A Face in the Crowd and Breakfast at Tiffany's, a rare comedy for Neal). They had five children, including author Tessa Dahl, one of whom, Olivia Twenty Dahl, died of measles encephalitis at the age of 7 in 1962. Theo, his only son, was involved in an accident as an infant and went on to develop hydrocephalus: as a result his father became involved in the development of what became known as the *Wade-Dahl-Till (WDT) valve, a device to alleviate the condition. His daughter Ophelia Dahl is director and cofounder (with doctor Paul Farmer) of Partners in Health, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing health care to some of the most impoverished communities in the world. Tessa's daughter and inspiration for the "helpmate" character in The BFG is model and author Sophie Dahl. In 1983, he married Felicity Ann d'Abreu Crosland, his former wife's former best friend.
He died of