Life of Harleston Lancaster navigator remembered at service

PUBLISHED: 19:39 12 June 2014

William Lister's coffin, draped in the RAF flag with a police helmet on top is carried into St John's Church, Harleston.

William Lister's coffin, draped in the RAF flag with a police helmet on top is carried into St John's Church, Harleston.


The life of a former Lancaster bomber navigator, who witnessed the D-Day landings, was remembered at a moving funeral service.

The congregation at St John’s Church in Harleston also heard amusing anecdotes from William Lister’s time in the RAF and the Metropolitan Police force, which he joined after leaving the military.

Mr Lister, known as Bill, who lived with his wife Kathy in Jay’s Green, Harleston, died aged 91 from a form of pneumonia at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on May 18.

His former police colleague Geoff Cooper told the congregation on Thursday how Mr Lister had two modes - “extremely strict, but also compassionate”.

He recalled how he once arrived late for an early shift with the police, only to be greeted by a smiling Mr Lister, who told him: “You haven’t turned up late for the early shift, but early for the late shift. See you later.”

Mr Cooper also recounted tales from Mr Lister’s RAF career, including how he once healed a monkey that had been bitten by an Indian Pariah dog.

The monkey had befriended the RAF servicemen based there, who drew straws to decide who would treat the abcess left by the bite on the stricken animal, with Mr Lister drawing the shortest.

Mr Cooper also described how Mr Lister was a big Frank Sinatra fan who “would tap out rhythms on a table”. His coffin was accompanied into the church by the sound of Sinatra’s It Was a Very Good Year, before leaving to the tune Come Fly With Me.

“He was a professional with the utmost integrity and caring for all, including all the prisoners he dealt with. It is sad to see Bill pass on, but he goes with a wealth of achievement behind him,” Mr Cooper said.

During the Second World War, Mr Lister - who was based at RAF Mildenhall - flew in 30 sorties over Germany as a navigator on a Lancaster bomber and also witnessed the English Channel full of boats as soldiers took part in the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944.

The service was led by the Rev Nigel Tuffnell and donations were given to the charities the Mildenhall Register and the Met Police Benevolent Fund.

As well as Kathy, he also leaves a daughter Julia, 46 and son Michael.

Do you remember Mr Lister? Email your tributes to

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