Norfolk Lancaster bomber navigator to celebrate 90th birthday
The importance of recognising the sacrifices made by Britain's armed forces is not lost on former Lancaster bomber navigator William Lister.
For the Harleston man, one of an ever decreasing band of survivors from the Second World War air crews, will celebrate his 90th birthday on Wednesday- fittingly, the same day soldiers from the Royal Anglian Regiment will be parading 10 miles away in Diss to receive the Freedom of the town.
During his four years of service with the RAF, the grandfather flew 30 missions over Germany, braving anti-aircraft guns as well as attacks from Messerschmitt fighters and also spent time in Burma and Australia before the war ended.
Mr Lister, who lives with wife Kath, 70 in Jay's Green, said: 'Any military organisation needs a good leg up and to know that the country's behind them. If they marched through Diss and there was nobody there, it would be very depressing.
'I think public support is very important to the soldiers because whether you agree or disagree with the decision to go to war in Afhanistan, they are our boys and girls.'
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Born in Chippenham, Wiltshire, Mr Lister was raised in Fareham, Hampshire and joined the RAF in December 1941 despite coming from a family that had predominantly served in the Royal Navy.
He was based at Mildenhall with 622 squadron and flew as a navigator on bombing raids over the Ruhr, particularly the city of Essen and Berlin.
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His bomber was never shot down by the Germans, although the Lancaster suffered bullet and shrapnel holes after being attacked by Messerschmitts during the bombing raids.
He recalled the spirit of camaraderie between the airmen and how they would often joke with each other to relieve the anxiety over the dangers they were facing.
'After a briefing, my colleagues would joke 'go and get your parachute, if it does not work, bring it back,'' Mr Lister added.
He said the Germans would often mount anti-aircraft guns on boats in the English Channel to try and shoot down Allied aircraft and recalled seeing the Channel full of boats while flying home from a bombing raid, completely unaware the vessels were taking part in the D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944, which had been kept top secret.
Towards the end of the war, Mr Lister was deployed with 238 squadron, serving in Burma to provide air support for the 14th Army, which was fighting the Japanese and was then deployed to Australia, where he said he was able to enjoy meals of lamb chops and oyster after having to endure rationing in the UK.
'Squadron life was not all doom and gloom because if it was, nobody would have done it. We used to take it as it came and liked to enjoy ourselves.
'Fly hard, play hard was our motto because you never knew if you were going to be there tomorrow,' he said.
For his efforts, Mr Lister was awarded the War Medal, Burma Star, Air Crew of Europe medal and Pacific Star, as well as a general RAF medal.
After leaving the RAF, he joined the Met Police in London before retiring 25 years ago. He moved to Harleston with his wife in 1994. He has a son Michael, aged in his 60s and daughter Julia, 44.