East York sailor takes his station at sea

For Jim Lister, this Remembrance Day commemorated a positive experience because of his keen affinity with water.

Lister grew up in East York and fondly remembers summers swimming in the Don River. Perhaps his enjoyment of the water kindled his interest in joining the sea cadets as a teenager – and that in turn created an interest in the navy. In 1945, as the Second World War came to a close, Lister became a sailor.

“I enlisted; I liked ships… I liked the ocean,” Lister said.

Initially stationed in Halifax, Lister eventually sailed to the Falkland Islands, Chile, Brazil and Trinidad.

“It was a new experience. I lived here [East York] all my life. It was a change  being 200 miles from home,” Lister said.

Meanwhile, Lister’s older brothers – stationed in France and England – fought in the army. His eldest brother died in combat.

“It was a great loss,” Lister said.

Lister remembers how his parents reacted to this unhappy news.

“They were very sad…but that happens when you lose a child,” Lister said. Nevertheless, he describes his own time in the military in positive terms, helped with the memory of the camaraderie among shipmates.

“Once you got to know other people on the ship, it was great,” Lister said.

Still, Lister recognizes that life on the HMCS Haida, the ship he had many adventures on, had its ups and downs.

“Everyday was a different day. Some days were rough, some days were normal,” Lister said.

One of his greatest adventures came four years after the war.  On Nov. 15, 1949, a B-29 bomber flying from California to Bermuda had to ditch in the Atlantic after a mechanical failure.  Another aircraft found the plane and radioed to Lister’s ship, HMCS Haida, to save the downed airmen.

“The airmen had been in the water for an entire day,” Lister said.

At the time, Lister stationed in the wheelhouse, took directions to steer the ship towards the downed USAF plane.  HMCS Haida rescued 18crew from the B-29 and took them to a hospital in Bermuda.

“We were glad to have been able to do that,” Lister said. “They were in need of  help and we helped them.”

But he downplays the notion of heroism among HMCS Haida’s crew.

“You just had to do your job,” Lister said.

Every year, Lister participates in the East York’s Remembrance Day observance.   To this day, he still has many naval friends.