Tributes to Harleston wartime pilot

PUBLISHED: 11:27 05 June 2014

Former RAF Lancaster Navigator William Lister celebrates his 90th birthday at home in Harleston. Photograph Simon Parker

Former RAF Lancaster Navigator William Lister celebrates his 90th birthday at home in Harleston. Photograph Simon Parker


The extraordinary life of a former Lancaster bomber navigator is to be remembered at a funeral service in his home town today.

William Lister, of Jay’s Green, Harleston, flew 30 sorties over Germany during the Second World War with the RAF and had to brave attacks from Messerschmitt fighters, as well as incendiary bombs which became embedded in the aircraft’s wings.

He died, aged 91, from a form of pneumonia at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on May 18. His funeral will be held at St John’s Church, starting at 2pm today.

The airman, who received the Bomber Command Clasp for his service, was planning to join the Navy but decided instead to go into the RAF, in retaliation for a German Stuka dive bomber attacking RAF Honington while he was working there on a construction project.

He was initially based at Padgate, in Cheshire, where he learned navigational skills, before moving on to RAF Yatesbury in Wiltshire.

After leaving Yatesbury, he moved to an RAF base in Buckinghamshire to continue his air crew training, where he met his lifelong friend and pilot Jack Lunn. He initially flew on Wellington bombers but moved to RAF Mildenhall, where he joined 622 Squadron and flew on Lancasters that took part in missions over German cities including Braunschweig, Cologne and Dusseldorf.

During the raids, his Lancaster suffered bullet and shrapnel damage after being attacked by German fighters - but it was never shot down.

Returning from one mission, he witnessed the channel full of boats, completely unaware at the time they were taking part in the D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Mr Lister, who was born in Chippenham, Wiltshire, later joined 238 Squadron in Burma, which was providing air support to the 14th Army in its fight against the Japanese.

After leaving the RAF, he joined the Met Police and met his wife Kathy, a nurse at Cuckfield hospital in Sussex.

The couple moved around the south east before ending up at Mendham, while Mrs Lister, now 71, worked at Bungay. They then moved to Harleston.

Frank Sinatra fan Mr Lister will be accompanied by the sound of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ hits It was a Very Good Year and Come Fly With Me at his funeral, which is raising money for the charities the Mildenhall Register and the Met Police Benevolent Fund.

Mrs Lister said: “He had a long life and he was always active right up until his health started to deteriorate five years ago. He was a strong man on the exterior, but quite soft on the inside and it was not until recently that he opened up about his time in the RAF.”

He has a daughter Julia, 46, and son Michael.

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