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At 101, John Lister has a lifetime of vivid memories from arriving in Normandy hours after the first D Day landings to living in rural Norfo

John Lister

John was born in 1919, one of nine children, sisters Mary and Maureen and brothers Arthur, Joe, Richard, Robert, James and Edward. 

Robert and Edward are still alive with Robert living locally and Edward living in Australia, but this hasn't stopped John keeping in touch with weekly telephone calls.

All the children had nicknames, John's was Lambert taken from the football goalkeeper John aspired to. Robert’s nickname was Lud after a Norfolk hero called Lobby Lud who appeared randomly at seaside resorts and gave out prizes. 

John's first memories are reading poetry at the age of four - to this day he can still recall all the verses from The Peddlers Caravan by William Brighty Rands. 

He was born in Hingham in Norfolk and his first job was a brick layer on his father’s farm.

He was called up for war service with the 72nd Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, training in Ipswich and Sevenoaks in Kent, before going into the army as a Gunner.

He was responsible for a water tanker that held 3000 gallons of water which he had to distribute where it was needed to cool off the guns and cannons.

He landed in Normandy 18 hours after the battle started and recalls the heavy artillery – shells weighing 110 pounds that took two men with a crane to move.

The food was ok – “a lot of porridge cooked in a big copper urn, always available, but nothing really tasty”.

He finished up at the end of the war in Holland; John can recall eating breakfast and it was “damn tasty”.

He recalls the kindness of the people he met in Belgium, especially an elderly couple who cooked the soldiers’ meals and served them fresh milk straight from the cows udder into a jug as they watched.

That was a real treat for a farm boy but he also recalls the sickening images of local children eating grass as they were starving and he had nothing to give them at the time – this still makes him cry.

After being demobbed from the army he re-met and married Ella a childhood friend having met her in the local pub.

They married in November 1947 (it snowed heavily) and they went on to run a local pub in Deopham called The Half Moon until it was closed by the brewery.

They continued to live on the land beside the pub in a bungalow where John was a keen vegetable gardener. Sadly, they were unable to have any children much to both of their disappointment.

John found employment at another farm in Sprowston, Norwich, travelling 17 miles to work on a Morley tractor. 

He was a keen fisherman having grown up fishing in the pits on his father’s farm; he can recall fishing at 2am and returning then to milk the cows on the farm. 

John sadly lost Ella in March 2020 while they were both resident at Thorp House.

His words of advice – Do as you are told, Don’t be bullied in life but don’t argue unless you are right – then argue.

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