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Interview of Pat Musters, 23rd November 2001

Interviewed by Peter Stoddart

Interviewer
How and when did you actually get involved with Austers and start army flying?
Pat Musters
I went to light aircraft school at Middle Wallop, which was then an RAF run establishment, to learn to fly. That was in January 53 and I was there until the end of July. I passed that successfully. You started on Tiger Moths and then moved across to the intermediate flight on Auster Fives and then to the exercise flight in Auster Sixes and Sevens. In September 53 I had flown out in an Avro York back to Malaya for the second time at my express wish as I loved the country so much. I landed at Singapore and made my way up by train to join 656 Squadron at Kuala Lumpur. I had a few days there and did a few familiarisation flights before I was sent further north up to Tai Ping to join 1907 flight equipped with Auster Sixes and a Seven. The establishment of that was about six aircraft. There were probably 22 RAF ground crew under a sergeant and about 20 Signallers, drivers and Royal Artillery. The pilots were either Royal Artillery or Glider Pilot Regiment.
Interviewer
I have always been interested in the way they numbered the flights. Although it was a flight of a squadron, during the Second World War they called them A, B and C flight but they gave these 1900 numbers, didn’t they, to the flights?
Pat Musters
Yes.
Interviewer
They were almost like mini squadrons.
Pat Musters
I can’t ever remember hearing of a 1900 flight but there was 1901 and 1902. 1903 was in Korea, 1902 was down in Singapore. 1907 – the one I joined – was in Tai Ping. 1911 was another mainly Glider Pilot Regiment flight. They called it a light liaison flight rather than an AOP flight because it had Glider Pilot Regiment people in it and they were doing the same job out there.
Interviewer
They were flying Austers still were they?
Pat Musters
Yes. All Auster Sixes with a spare dual side seat – Auster Seven.
Interviewer
You got established in Malaya. Was this Mau Mau time?
Pat Musters
Mau Mau was East Africa.
Interviewer
Sorry.
Pat Musters
Communist terrorists was why we were there. The squadron headquarters was in Kuala Lumpur and these four flights split up between Singapore in the south, Tai Ping in the north, Seremban in the middle and off to the east of Kuala Lumpur a place called Benta – a rather remote station.
Interviewer
What sort of action did you get involved in straightaway or did you do continuation training?
Pat Musters
It was first of all reconnaissance and searching for communist terrorist camps and cultivation areas. It was liaison in flying other officers or Aboriginal department people to various places for meetings, reconnaissance, to bring them back again and eventually dropping a slope marker on a target that you had discovered for which there was no infantry available to deal with. What you were doing was marking it for squadron bombers, usually Lincoln Bombers, either Australian or British who had flown up from Singapore at dawn that day.
Interviewer
So would they be on a patrol already for when you marked target?
Pat Musters
No, they wouldn’t be on a patrol already. If you had discovered a communist terrorist camp and there was no one else to deal with it on the ground somebody would order that it was struck with bombs. You would then make contact by telephone with the squadron who would say when they would be in the area. They would send a Lincoln Bomber up ahead to make contact with you in your Auster by radio and the rest of the squadron would be following about three or four minutes behind. Once you had made contact they would tell you their time on target and it was your aim to drop a swipe marker on the target which only you could identify at about minus one and a half minutes to bomb. They would be counting from minus ten through to minus eight, minus six, minus four and then every minute; minus three and minus two. Half a minute later you’ve dropped your marker and then you’re looking for a small hill to go and hide behind ((laughs)) to escape the shockwave. After that you would be invited to fly back through the smoke, drifting leaves and twigs to assess the damage and tell the strike leader what had happened – extremely exciting for a young 29 year old captain.
Interviewer
Very tightly timed as well.
Pat Musters
It had to be.
Interviewer
Nobody was ever hit by any falling bombs hopefully?
Pat Musters
No. ((laughs)) That would be gross carelessness. ((laughs))
Interviewer
How effective do you think this was? Obviously, it had to be a last minute thing.
Pat Musters
It’s something that made the communist terrorists – the CTs – very nervous. It was very effective in some cases and of course if you had no ground troops in that particular area to deal with that particular target it was the only thing you could do. There were some cases where just after I had left the area in September 56 there was one particular terrorist in the Seremban area called ((Tang Fook Lyung?)) otherwise known as ten foot long who had escaped our attention for a long time. He’d be usually on another hill watching us strike his previous camp. What we did was to put a radio device into a sack of rice, which we fed to him and finally we homed in on the radio beams and took him out – he didn’t exist. He, in fact, was on the victory parade in London at the end of the Second World War.
Interviewer
It was the same people of course that were fighting the Japanese…
Pat Musters
Yes.
Interviewer
…from within but then they didn’t want the western occupation so they were fighting them from within.
Pat Musters
That’s right.
Interviewer
They all get their independence in the end.
Pat Musters
They did and amicably and sensibly. It was all handled very well, not only by us but by the Malays as well. Tunku Adbul Rahman was the chief minister who took over. He was in the UMNO – United Malays National Organisation. He was a very fine man.
Interviewer
Were you out there for three years?
Pat Musters
Yes, it was my second tour of Malaysia. It was a three year tour and I would have liked it to have gone on for longer. It was probably the most demanding but satisfying and exciting job I could ever have been offered or hope to have performed. I loved it. I met some lifelong friends amongst the gunner pilots.
Interviewer
What had your previous tour been?
Pat Musters
It was as a staff officer in head quarters south Malaya district – one of those things that has to be done to teach you how to be a staff officer, which you escape from as and when you ((laughs)) respectably can.
Interviewer
Was this in artillery regiments?
Pat Musters
No; this was as an artillery officer but simply doing a staff job. In actual fact it was a quarter mastering job. It was staff captain quartering building emergency camps for companies and battalions of Gurkha’s, British troops and artillery regiments.
Interviewer
Did that immediately precede your pilot training?
Pat Musters
Yes. Before that I was in a regiment in Hong Kong.
Interviewer
You made the classic change like a lot of the early AOP pilots who were officers who then learnt to fly, as was ((Baisley’s?)) original intention: to get the men who shoot the guns and know all about it up there in the aeroplanes spotting.
Pat Musters
In AOP your original aim, started in World War Two, was to spot the fallen shot of your own guns and to correct that onto the target. There was very little of it in Malaya. First of all there were very few guns and many of the soldiers in an artillery regiment would have probably been used in the infantry role. The British soldier was extremely flexible I am glad to say. I only ranged guns onto a target about three times in the whole of the three years. The rest was all visual reconnaissance, marking targets and transporting people from A to B.
Interviewer
What sort of height do the Lincoln’s drop their bombs from, because there wouldn’t be any anti-aircraft resistance I don’t suppose?
Pat Musters
No. They would probably come in at about 7,000 or 8,000 feet. It depended very much on the height of the ground. Some of our targets might be at 3,000 or 4,000 feet above sea level and they’d probably be correspondingly higher. Some of our targets might be up a steep sided valley. One particular valley I remember was the Sungai Raya – the river Raya – east of Ipoh which was a favourite area of mine. That valley was about ten kilometres long and climbing all the way with very steep sides. The top eastern end of it had a plateau where there was the ((Bo Tia?)) state and if you had a strong wind coming from the east and you were heading into it you would get a strong downdraft off the edge of that plateau as you were approaching the top end of the valley. You suddenly realised that your altimeter was beginning to unwind quite rapidly. If you hadn’t left enough ((laughs)) room to turn around in this steep sided valley you would be in trouble. The idea was you flew up one side of it just in case you met the downdraft, always making sure you had enough room to turn round, fly out of the valley and try again at a greater altitude. You could then just hop in over the top. The people up there would probably be 22 SAS on a long-standing patrol and probably have asked for radio batteries, explosives or a saw to cut down more trees for a drop zone and things like this.
Interviewer
Would the majority of terrain you were operating over be jungle?
Pat Musters
Yes.
Interviewer
Were the agricultural clearings moved about?
Pat Musters
You had the Aborigines there and many of them were under pressure from the communist terrorists to support them and provide them with food but an Aborigine ladang or clearing was a higgledy-piggledy thing. They had the knack of half cutting through 100 trees and then selecting the critical tree, cutting it right down and as it fell it would bring all the others down in the area like a pack of dominoes. You would have this area with a lot of fallen trees in it. The brushwood had been burnt off and then you would see cultivations being performed between the trees. That was on an Aborigine cultivation. A communist terrorist one would be much smaller, neater with everything in strict little rows and every square inch of soil made use of. That was the difference.
Interviewer
What success do you think you had? It’s hard to assess but if you flew back immediately afterwards would you see physical destruction?
Pat Musters
Are we talking about bombing?
Interviewer
Yes.
Pat Musters
You would see a complete rectangle of jungle had simply disappeared and you would see bare earth, a few fallen trees, the occasional heavy big branch still deciding whether or not it was going to fall or stay up on the tree. It would fall probably as you were just ducking these leaves which were charging at the windscreen. You almost flew, on these sorts of missions, by the port door, the idea being that you could tip it up on the port wing and look down between the trees when you were searching. You were limiting yourself far too much by flying a reconnaissance mission or even a target marking mission with the port door on. The little canvas and Perspex door was taken off and you had right beside you 90 or 100 knots of wind ((laughs)) rushing past – fascinating.
Interviewer
The other activities such as transporting people around, would that would be to jungle strips? Engineers presumably cleared them or was it the platoons?
Pat Musters
Sometimes the strips were made for the police jungle squads where they established force. ((Fort Eskanda?)) is one that sticks in my memory. There were various other forts deep in the jungle with a small landing strip, most of which were long enough for an Auster. One or two were particularly short and were designed for what was then a fairly new aircraft the Single Pioneer, which was an RAF aircraft and they had a very short takeoff and landing. I went in on one strip in an Auster to try it out as an emergency strip for my own particular flight. I understood later that I shouldn’t have done so because it so happened that the wing commander flying ((laughs)) from HQ Malaya was flying over at about 9,000 feet and saw an Auster parked on this tiny little strip, which hadn’t been parked. I got my wrist slapped for that one. ((laughs)) My excuse was very sound: I was looking for an emergency strip, but taking off from it was a problem.
Interviewer
You didn’t have to have the aeroplane dismantled?
Pat Musters
No, we got off. What I did was to check very carefully what my route was going to be and around which tree I was going to fly whilst still gathering height and where I could make my turn. I then put her down and it worked.
Interviewer
Did you go out between the trees rather than straight over them?
Pat Musters
Yes.
Interviewer
The photographs I have seen of some of these Malayan strips, it’s either strip or trees. There’s not a gradation away from the end of it.
Pat Musters
It was a bit hairy. There was one strip up in north Malaya near ((Crow?)) You could only go in one way because there was a hill at the far end and you were landing uphill. You had to get down first time. It was no good trying to overshoot. If you tried to overshoot and go round around again you’d hit the hill. That was always a bit dicey on the first one but you soon got used to it. Taking off you would simply turnaround and rush back downhill again.
Interviewer
When you first started out in the jungle you hadn’t had any training in this country that would match the conditions you were going to have out there. I don’t know of there being any training areas here where they took a pine forest and cut an airstrip out of it to give you the training. How did you get on initially? You must have had some hairy moments at the start.
Pat Musters
It was unfamiliar to begin with. Probably some of one’s early missions were distributing leaflets. You probably had 5,000 leaflets in heavy bundles beside you. With a sharp knife you could slash the bundle, pick up and roll up handfuls and fling them out of your port door. If you were doing that at about 4,000 feet above sea level – a couple of hundred feet or 50 feet above the trees I suppose – and you suddenly came out over the edge of the hills and saw immediately below you – 4,000 feet below – the coastal plain, suddenly your knuckles on the control column ((laughs)) would be white for no apparent reason. You got used to it. I remember the first target I marked for some Lincolns was up a very tight little valley and it was all so extremely unfamiliar to me that I was quite scared. If you’ve got a whole lot of other people depending on you, you’ve got to go on, so I did but very soon you got quite used to it.
Interviewer
When you’re manoeuvring in awkward places like that, particularly initially, presumably you are rather preoccupied with the flying?
Pat Musters
You are.
Interviewer
Really you are supposed to be looking out at what’s on the ground. Presumably there was a stage when the flying became automatic?
Pat Musters
If, for instance, you were doing a reconnaissance up a tight little valley you’d probably do it at a higher level to begin with until you could see where the danger points in this valley were going to be and at what height you could be safely tackling it. You approached the problem gradually until later your experience immediately told you what you could safely do without having to dip your toe in the water first, so to speak.
Interviewer
Presumably, knowing their mobility, the sight of an Auster reconnoitring around could well cause the communists to move?
Pat Musters
Yes, if you were circling for too long in one spot. You wanted to try to avoid doing that or, having suddenly come on a place when you’re circling it, go and circle somewhere else pretending that you are just circling and haven’t spotted anything. In only one or two cases did a pilot come back with a bullet hole in the wing. Really, the communist terrorists were trying to conceal their presence rather than expose themselves.
Interviewer
The likelihood of actually shooting you down with small arms is fairly remote I suppose?
Pat Musters
I don’t know. You were very slow.
Interviewer
Unless you actually hit the man in charge. You’ve got to hit rather small areas in an Auster for them to be vital parts.
Pat Musters
That’s right. If you only happen to be 100 feet up that’s only 30 yards.
Interviewer
When you were looking in the jungle you could normally be as low as that, could you, if the terrain allowed?
Pat Musters
Yes but normally a bit higher – 200 or 300 feet above.
Interviewer
What proportion of your time would you be flying? Were you on daily patrols or was it as required?
Pat Musters
The way we used to organise ourselves was a flight in a given area like Tai Ping, for instance, would be covering the whole state of Perak and a little bit of Selangor. In that area there would be certain police districts with perhaps various infantry battalions in support of those police districts. They would be patrolling, searching and laying ambushes in known areas. In a flight of six pilots each would be allotted an area to get to know in which there would be a police jungle squad. He would probably have met the leader of that jungle squad or at least spoken to him by radio. The battalion probably would have divided its companies up into particular areas and the pilot allotted to that battalion would probably know several of the company commanders. You’ve got your relationship there. If the pilot had no particular task requested of him to perform and the flight commander told him to go out and fly a visual reconnaissance of that area he would probably know which part of that area was most likely to produce results. He would probably know it so well that he could recognise recent storm damage where trees had grown old and rotten and had apparently fallen due to the recent storm rather than felled by people who shouldn’t really be there. A pilot came to know his hundreds of square miles pretty well and that was the way it was organised. If there was no particular request to be responded to a flight commander would send his pilots out to cover their area and just keep checking.
Interviewer
The action of the bombers would be totally dependent on what you turned up on the reconnaissance?
Pat Musters
Indeed. The bombing was not all that frequent, only if there were no ground troops available to investigate the area or attack it.
Interviewer
If there was a ground force how would you work with them? Would you lead them in by reconnaissance or would you give them an area and they would do the rest themselves?
Pat Musters
You’d land back and make a report to the battalion intelligence officer. They would then decide how to handle that information. If there was a company commander somewhere in the area of the target you’d discovered he’d be informed and it was up to him how he was going to deal with it.
Interviewer
Did they ever draw you in for further reconnaissance or would they normally just get on with it themselves?
Pat Musters
No, from then on they’d get on with it and you’d eventually find out later what had happened. Another task we did was to drop small supplies such as new radio batteries to the SAS. With Gurkha troops sometimes you would drop them a form of chainsaw for bringing down a tree and usually a supply of rum as they are great rum drinkers. It took me quite a lot time to discover why all the bottles of rum always broke on arrival and they needed another one. ((laughs))
Interviewer
They got double quantity then?
Pat Musters
The Gurkha battalions that I supported in particular were the first six Gurkha’s and the second six Gurkhas, the first sevens and, to a lesser degree, the second sevens – superb people. Quite often if you landed away from your base, and I’m thinking now of places like Kuala Pilah and Bahau, if you said you were likely to need refuelling there were always three or four young Gurkha soldiers available at that point with extra jerry cans of fuel. They had a big square filter that they would put up on the wing, unscrew the tank cap and then pour these jerry cans of fuel in. Occasionally, they would try to pad the canvas wing from the sharp edges of the filter with padding and if they didn’t have it they would, unless you were watching carefully, grab the pilot’s seat and put that under the filter. If they spilt petrol on that seat it meant that for the rest of the sortie you might well be sitting for an hour or two on a petrol soaked seat. This can remove the skin from all sorts of sensitive areas.
Interviewer
I’m sure the stink could make you quite heady. It wouldn’t be ventilated out of the cabin straight away.
Pat Musters
It would go pretty quickly, yes, but it had happened. Later, when we got the Auster Nines there was an immense improvement. You weren’t working to quite the same desperate limits ((?)) as you were with the Auster Sixes. For instance, if you were dropping supplies to someone at 5,000 feet above sea level – 100 feet above the trees – and there was a slight rise in the ground you were dropping supplies into a small hole in the jungle with half flap at about 55 to 60 knots. You would have very little reserve of power if the hill in front of you turned out to be steeper than you had calculated it was. Once we got the Auster Nines there was a distinct improvement. There was an improvement in other respects. There was more room to extend your elbows a little bit even though you were carrying a passenger beside you. You weren’t barely daring to take a deep breath as you might nudge the general too hard. ((laughs)) We had a decent light series bomb rack underneath the aircraft too for dropping proper reconnaissance flares instead of Hawkin’s ((?)) generators, which you carried on your lap with a handmade parachute.
Interviewer
Did the barrels of rum and batteries go down on little parachutes?
Pat Musters
Yes.
Interviewer
Did you have a dispatcher throwing them out or did you do that yourself?
Pat Musters
You did it yourself. They would be stacked beside you close to where the Sixes’ number 19 radio set was. Without the port door on it was possible to pick it up and just fling it out at the right moment as you were looking down between the trees.
Interviewer
Was that fairly regular then?
Pat Musters
You quite often did that sort of thing.
Interviewer
If you could do that lower down presumably it was far more accurate than other methods of delivery?
Pat Musters
It was very accurate. We used to practise sometimes. If there was nothing much on you could have all sorts of games. You could make a target on the airstrip, take off and bomb it with condoms filled with water, which was quite good fun and improve your accuracy that way. Another thing was to release a long loo roll and then see how many ((laughs)) slices you could cut it into with your wing tip but ((laughs)) this was just fun and seldom happened.
Interviewer
Presumably you were doing enough flying to keep your sharpness and edge?
Pat Musters
Yes. If you had the odd fun day like that it was a good opportunity to take some of the ground crew up who would be servicing these aeroplanes daily and seldom got the opportunity to get up in the air and have a look. If you could combine a bit of fun with it as well it was morale raising.
Interviewer
Would you normally have assigned aeroplanes or did you fly what was available?
Pat Musters
You flew what was available.
Interviewer
I was interested in your comments about the power and performance of the aeroplanes. How did you get on with the weather conditions as it is monsoon territory, isn’t it?
Pat Musters
It certainly is. If you went out with the main central chain of mountains on your left they had to be on your right coming back. There was only one railway up from Singapore that split at Gemas into the east coast and west coast railway. That was fairly simple to follow. If you hit bad weather you could simply fly up a route at low level. It was a bit disconcerting if you were following behind the rain because the cold rain would then form little puffs of cloud coming up through the trees and in the murk and gloom you could run into these quite easily. You would think you were running into thick cloud but you weren’t actually, you were just running into little bursts of mist coming up through the trees. You could follow your way back to base that way. It was important that every pilot knew his route. At Seremban most of our targets lay to the east and that meant crossing a low ridge of mountains. There was a particular gap – the Kuala Pilah gap. It was good to come through that in fine weather as though you were being forced down through bad weather at low level so that you could see just at what height you could safely get through, and then if you were cut off on the far side of the mountains to the east when the afternoon build up of cloud occurred you would think you were not going to get home until you got right up to the gap in the hills and really had a look and then you might just see a little ‘V’ of light under the cloud, which was the Kuala Pilah gap and you could probably just get through it. It was important that you practised these little return routes in good weather so that you knew what to do in bad weather.
Interviewer
This was where area allocations to the pilots were very important presumably?
Pat Musters
Yes, that was of additional importance.
Interviewer
What happened when people went on leave in covering these areas? Presumably there wouldn’t be another expert to go over it so did you have to fly areas you weren’t so familiar with?
Pat Musters
Yes. You didn’t stay responsible for a particular area for much longer than about six or seven months, and then you’d probably swap areas anyway so it would keep you sharpened up. One thing we never tried to do, and were warned against, was that if you were trapped in a valley to climb up through cloud on instruments and then launch out over the mountain tops and hope to drop back down again safely. We never did that. It had been tried in the past and almost always ended in disaster and death so that was not on.
Interviewer
How many people made precautionary landings in the jungle?
Pat Musters
You would only do that in the jungle if you ran out of engine or propeller as happened ((laughs)) on the Auster Sixes occasionally. You just landed back at a police fort somewhere and waited.
Interviewer
How thickly distributed would diversionary strips be?
Pat Musters
There was a fine scattering of airstrips around. Once you crossed the mountains eastwards it was then dead flat. From there to the far away east coast it was nothing but swampy jungle. Nowadays it is covered with motorways and tourist hotels but not then.
Interviewer
Turning to the Auster as an aeroplane how suited to the job was it really?
Pat Musters
It was the only aeroplane there was for the job so one has to say that it suited. It was a light aircraft, it was reliable, it had a Gipsy Major engine, it was relatively easy to maintain and easy to fly. It was relatively forgiving. The tail wheel, which was on a half-leaf spring would break if you did a heavy landing but apart from that I think you have to say that, it being the only aircraft available, it was okay but we were all very glad to receive the Auster Nine when it came.
Interviewer
Did you find that a great improvement?
Pat Musters
Yes, in terms of space, room to breathe and also improvement in performance. Instead of 130 horsepower it had a 180 horsepower Bombardier engine. It has a cartridge self-starter, which was a big relief. Trying to start the Gipsy Major off the battery and re-start it when you are away on some external airstrip was always a bit of a worry.
Interviewer
Yes, starting the war engine. The Mark Nine, unlike the previous aeroplanes, which came from the original civil design before the war, was designed to the requirement and certainly the space in the cabin was much more generous.
Pat Musters
Yes.
Interviewer
Did you fly very much in a Mark Nine with someone in the back?
Pat Musters
We occasionally had to do that. One of my pilots Mick Griffiths was flying with a British Gurkha major in the seat beside him and a Gurkha officer behind him. That’s a full load for an Auster Nine. He was on a reconnaissance mission. They asked him to fly in a particular area and on a full load, low to the trees in a tight turn we think he had a high-speed stall, which meant that in a tight turn like that its nose went straight into the jungle, it caught fire and all three were lost. That sort of loading in a reconnaissance mission under those sorts of circumstances was probably a bit silly. As a transport aircraft on a liaison flight it was perfectly alright. When you are on a reconnaissance mission and you are doing close tight turns, trying to see down between the trees it’s not sensible to have a full load.
Interviewer
I get the impression you normally flew solo?
Pat Musters
Yes.
Interviewer
You never had a rear observer?
Pat Musters
No.
Interviewer
Did you ever get caught out turning or manoeuvring yourself? Did you ever frighten yourself?
Pat Musters
No. I was nearly caught out twice. I was flying low down the river Perak – sungai Perak – and I found it odd it that a whole row of birds across the river appeared to be stationary. Suddenly I realised they were sitting on cables with the pylons concealed in the trees. I was quite close to them before ((laughs)) I realised that. On another occasion I had stupidly taken off without checking the fuel. The aircraft had not been refuelled. I realised I was very low on fuel and I had to turn round and come back at minimum revs. I was nearly caught out that way but both of them were my own fault. I still say it was the most exciting, rewarding and fulfilling job that I could have ever been offered.
Interviewer
After that tour was the end of your connection with Austers?
Pat Musters
Almost, yes. In fact, I came back eventually after a job being a gunnery instructor at ((?)) for a second flying tour in Germany. This was not the same. It was an aviation staff job in head quarters army aviation one wing in Germany at Detmold. There we had Beavers and a fairly tame Auster Nine still available that I would latch onto as soon as I could. The Beaver was a fine aircraft but I held no affection for it, as I did for the Auster.
Interviewer
There was never any attempt to use bigger aeroplanes like that for a reconnaissance at all…
Pat Musters
Not in Germany.
Interviewer
…out in Malaya? Were they operating out in Malaya?
Pat Musters
Later, Beavers were there, after I had left. I left in September 56. In 57 or 58 just after ((?)) freedom they had Beavers there.
Interviewer
My wife and I had a holiday in America last year and we went in a float plane Beaver from Seattle to Victoria in British Columbia. It was beautiful and it still had the Pratt and Whitney engine as they’ve put turbines in some of them.
Pat Musters
Yes, the Turbo Beaver is a nice aircraft.
Interviewer
That was quite an experience.
Pat Musters
I would love to do that. I have cousins in Vancouver and they have sent me a book on the Beaver.
Interviewer
This particular firm Kenmore Air Harbour are reworking lots of these Beavers. They would like to get new ones. I should imagine all the military ones that survived have now gone off into...
Pat Musters
They are amazing aeroplanes actually but not as tough as you might expect. One broke up in a storm in Germany. They had the brigadier army aviation visiting and the pilot flew into a storm and it really broke that aeroplane up.
Interviewer
If conditions got really bad in Malaya with monsoon time and so on presumably your area of operations just stopped, did they, or did you have to go out sometimes in detrimental conditions?
Pat Musters
The monsoon was mainly a lot of rain. The powerful storms were those not necessarily in the monsoon period, but which built up over the mountains in a cumulonimbus thundercloud and that could be quite violent. The monsoon itself was an awful lot of rain and low cloud and you could cope with that as you could follow routes. That didn’t stop you doing a liaison flight transporting someone from A to B or carrying an important report perhaps to Melaka or up to Kuala Lumpur. You couldn’t go doing visual reconnaissance over the jungle or marking targets – that was out.
Interviewer
Would monsoon cloud have a fairly steady cloud base?
Pat Musters
Yes. It would be low, murky and horrid but you could still do it if it had to be done, but normally you would send your pilots home for an early cup of tea. ((laughs))
Interviewer
With the Mark Nine you had the equipment rack underneath. Did you actually ever do any bombing from that? It could carry light bombs.
Pat Musters
You could but we weren’t allowed to. I always wished something like that or that we could at least have had a couple of Bren guns strapped to the struts. ((laughs))
Interviewer
You fancied yourself as a fighter pilot then?
Pat Musters
We all fancied ourselves as that. We’d practise doing little dogfights without armament. Once you got on the tail of someone it was very difficult for him to shake you off. It was an interesting study.
Interviewer
The Agricola aeroplane, which was another specially designed one at the same time as the Mark Nine but was a low wing aeroplane for crop dusting, there were schemes promoted for hanging guns on that.
Pat Musters
Really?
Interviewer
The same sort of thing was done with the aeroplane that won the day, particularly in New Zealand. There was an American design called a Fletcher Defender and that actually was one of the poor man’s air force aeroplanes.
Pat Musters
It is an interesting thing because in the early days it was RAF owned aircraft paid for the RAF and it was only when army aviation was formed about 1957 that we actually started providing the aircraft as soldiers and ground crew were soldiers then – REME. From then on we were pushing hard against resistance at the top to be armed. Eventually we were. With antitank missiles as was witnessed in the Falklands and now with the Apache helicopter, which army aviation have got, you have a very potent weapon indeed. The soldier pilot has advanced from just being a chap with no arms but a good pair of eyes and a radio to be being equipped with a very potent weapon but it’s taken a long time.
Interviewer
You mentioned that you carried out three or four shoots to artillery ((?))
Pat Musters
Yes.
Interviewer
What sort of action was that? It must have been a more fixed action rather than just discovering a terrorist?
Pat Musters
In this particular case I am thinking of, up in the Tai Ping area, just north of Ipoh for the second sixth Gurkha’s. I would have been asked to range the guns onto a particular ridge, which the CO of that Gurkha battalion reckoned was an area that he wanted suppressed quietly or to be chivvied up because his own troops didn’t want to be interfered with by people he knew existed on that ridge – I don’t know. For whatever reason I ranged the guns onto that ridge and from then on they had recorded that as a target and they could do whatever they wanted to it later. Really, it was just a case of ranging the guns onto the target, that then was recorded as a target – the range and all the information as to where it was – and it could be engaged later at any time they wished without any other help from me.
Interviewer
You didn’t actually perform a correcting function?
Pat Musters
Yes, you do a correcting function until the fallen shot was occurring in the right area. Then you would say “Record as target,” which they then do and you can then go away and do something else.
Interviewer
So it was really a pilot’s aeroplane and you were the pilot that wanted to sit in the old Auster in action?
Pat Musters
((laughs)) I suppose that’s right.
Interviewer
Did you fly any other light aircraft, which made you realise there were deficiencies with the Auster?
Pat Musters
No. Certainly as a flight commander what I wanted to do more than anything else was to get permission for my pilots to go up to Kuala Lumpur and perhaps spend a day having flights in a Harvard or some other light aircraft, just to refresh everything and sharpen them up again. After 1,500 or 2,000 hours in the same aircraft daily everything was becoming so automatic that you were almost forgetting to do your cockpit drills as it was all so familiar and there’s a danger in that. I very nearly succeeded in getting permission but not, unfortunately. I would have like to have done it to have given them a change.
Interviewer
As a flight commander you presumably had a system of flight checks, which you would be going through and signing logbooks for dual checks?
Pat Musters
Yes. They were very widely separated as there was a qualified flying instructor within the squadron at Kuala Lumpur and it was up to him to get around to do that. Basically flights were pretty busy. Many of us were flying at least 60 hours per month in a little single engine aircraft. Many of us flew 80 and 90 hours per month and in one or two cases over 100 hours per month. It is a lot of flying and sitting on a rather hard little seat getting cramp in the buttock muscles. The opportunities for checking your own pilots were not all that great and quite often one almost felt that to check them might be slightly insulting, which was one of the reasons why I wanted to try to get each one in turn away for a day or so onto a different aircraft just to sharpen everything up again.
Interviewer
It wouldn’t be in sight of the rest of the flight so he didn’t necessarily have to feel as though eyes were on him.
Pat Musters
Quite.
Interviewer
When you went over to Germany Auster flying was a luxury rather than part of your job. What about the pressure for introducing helicopters? When does that mature?
Pat Musters
I was not concerned with helicopters. The only helicopters that one saw in Malaya was the S51, predecessor to the Wessex and an even smaller one. The RAF pilots in those days were not accustomed to low level flying, detailed map reading and finding a small hole in the jungle. Usually if an RAF helicopter was required to fly into a landing zone to pick up a casualty it required an Auster pilot to lead him to the spot. After he’d seen him safely into the hole in the jungle he could then go away but that was a fact at the time. It was after I left in September 56 that they began to introduce helicopters into army aviation in quite a big way and they were getting helicopters out in Malaya. I was not concerned with that but by the time I got to Germany, which was I suppose was about four years later helicopters in army aviation were there in the form of the Skeeter and the Sioux. The Skeeter of course was a disaster. It was grossly under-pared with an overrated Gipsy Major engine, which was doing its very best ((?)) ((laughs)) sea level and in fact, when they got rid of the Skeeter they said the route back to the UK was marred with smoking pyres of crashed ((laughs)) Skeeters all the back but that was apocryphal.
Interviewer
Going back to your training days, did you fly Mark Fives as well?
Pat Musters
Yes. They were very cramped.
Interviewer
They had the same power as the Mark Six, but the Mark Six had the extra 15 horsepower. How did you find the Mark Five as an aeroplane?
Pat Musters
It was a nice little aeroplane but it was desperately cramped for six foot two. My knees were up under the instrument panel and it was a bit tight.
Interviewer
I’m not a pilot but I’ve flown many times as a passenger. When we used to fly the plane at the museum I used to have to sit very awkwardly so that my knees didn’t actually limit the ((?)) Nothing was adjustable until the Mark Six. Did you find the Mark Six adjustable seat was a benefit?
Pat Musters
It was better. Nothing like the comfort of the Mark Nine though.
Interviewer
If the Mark Nine had come earlier that would have been a real boon.
Pat Musters
It would have been a blessing.
Interviewer
That was more capable presumably of carrying cargo in the back as it had a separate rear door, didn’t it? In the Mark Nine you had a rear door as well as the two front doors.
Pat Musters
I’d forgotten that.
Interviewer
It was a funny shaped thing because of the tube structure and diamond shape. You don’t recall that?
Pat Musters
You’re right. I vaguely remember it.
Interviewer
Do you not recall people putting lots of cargo in there for you to take somewhere?
Pat Musters
No. Most of the flights I did in the Nine were supply dropping but if there had been cargo in the back I couldn’t have got hold of it.
Interviewer
I suppose even with the Mark Nine if you had a dispatcher to throw the cargo out you’d have less cargo, so you only have a limited load carrying ability.
Pat Musters
Yes.
Interviewer
I read in the latest Auster magazine that they have just had a reunion of 656 at Dishforth. Do you get up to that?
Pat Musters
No. It’s a long way up. I had better make an effort next time.
Interviewer
I have had previous contact with a chap called Jack Scollen. He lived in Durham. To be honest, I’m not sure whether he’s still alive or not now. He was a World War Two pilot with 656. He moved out of India into Burma.
Pat Musters
There’s a marvellous book called Unarmed Into Battle, I think.
Interviewer
Unarmed Into Battle was the original book.
Pat Musters
It was Parham, wasn’t it?
Interviewer
There is a book that’s come out recently about it.
Pat Musters
I’ve got it upstairs. It’s an excellent book.
Interviewer
When you moved to Germany it wouldn’t be 656 squadron there. 656 have always been associated with the far east.
Pat Musters
They have. It always will be. It’s back here now. ((laughs)) 656 came right down to C flight. Curiously enough, in another incarnation I was in the 44 Royal Marine Commandos during the war and I was in Burma. We did an assault and landing near ((?)) and an Auster landed on the beach there and it came from C flight, which I think eventually became 1914 flight, which I, some ten years later, commanded. Ted Maslin Jones was the pilot who I’ve since met. I felt I’d come full circle when I took over command of 1942 flight.
Interviewer
What moved you from the Marines to the Royal Artillery?
Pat Musters
The fact that at the end of the war 120,000 force shrank down to about 9,000. Somebody had to go.
Interviewer
Had you always wanted to be a regular?
Pat Musters
I got in during the war as a ((hostilities only?)) Marine and left as a subaltern and then came into the army as I found they were looking for ex-wing officers to join. That suited me as I had to training for civvy street. I was at a loss as to what to do. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was bereft of ideas and relatively bereft of training so I hopped back into the safety of the armed forces as quickly as I could. ((laughs))
Interviewer
Were you never tempted to go into civil light aviation in any way?
Pat Musters
Much later on I was. When I was in Germany I eventually got my American CPL but never did anything about it. It was really dependent on whether or not I could get redundancy payment. The army were reducing and I applied for redundancy. They were offering good terms, which would have helped me and I then had plans of moving out to western Australia with my four children and my wife. I was going to fly light aircraft out there but I couldn’t get the money. They wouldn’t give me the money and with four kids at boarding school at that time one was pretty hard up so I rather had to stick on to the bitter end at the age of 55 and come out. I’m now 78 and fully retired. ((laughs)) You can’t spend what few years you have left looking back over your shoulder. You’ve got to keep looking forward.
Interviewer
That’s right. I don’t know whether you are a member of the Auster club or not and whether you have seen the latest magazine. Unfortunately I haven’t brought it with me but there were a few photographs up at Dishforth of people there. Two of the Auster owners that have got Mark Fives in wartime camouflage took their aeroplanes up there.
Pat Musters
Really? One thing that was of interest was in 55 when I took an aircraft from Seremban to Kuala Lumpur and realised that I had a snake in the cockpit.
Interviewer
Nasty.
Pat Musters
It came up from behind the instrument panel, wrapped itself around those two struts that support the windshield and looked at me for the rest of the 30 minute flight. I then landed at ((?)) field, the small airstrip that served headquarters in Malaya, switched off and I was out of the aircraft before it had stopped rolling. The ground crew thought that the aircraft must have been on fire – but wrong – and I said “It’s a snake.” They chased it and it disappeared down an inspection hole in the wing route, down into the starboard wing and that wing had to be taken off before they could get hold of it. A photograph appeared in the Auster News, a little A5 newsletter that used to come out, of some of the ground crew holding a six foot snake on a stick. It turned out to be quite harmless ((laughs)) but I had several rounds of drinks on that one.
Interviewer
It could have been the opposite of harmless, couldn’t it?
Pat Musters
Yes.
Interviewer
Unless you’re a snake expert it’s better to be careful rather than sorry.
Pat Musters
((laughs)) I think it was May 54. I’ve got it down here in the logbook somewhere with the magic words “Snake in cockpit.” Anyway, it’s immaterial.
Interviewer
They would presumably be a fairly constant hazard. What about birds nesting in aeroplanes? Were tropical birds keen on the inside of aeroplanes?
Pat Musters
No. They couldn’t get in because once the aircraft was parked and wrapped up for the night the port door would have been put on again. In the evening I would sometimes walk down the airstrip and stroke all six of them.
Interviewer
You obviously enjoyed it supremely.
Pat Musters
It was a lovely job. I was suitably awarded and rewarded and that kept me happy.
Interviewer
What sort of attrition was there of pilots? Did you lose very many apart from the accident you’ve outlined?
Pat Musters
No. I only lost one pilot – Mick Griffith. There was a sergeant pilot in a flight up north when I was down in Seremban who had one or two beers too many in the Ipoh airport bar on Sunday, took off and got lost in the jungle when he ran into cloud and crashed. About a fortnight later he walked out on a road but by that time his supposed widow had been sent back to the UK in great distress. There’s no need to mention his name but a lot of us spent many hours searching for him but never found him. If he had walked 500 yards that way he’d have ended up on the road, but in fact a fortnight later he ended up on the road much further along and deeper in but how he survived that length of time I don’t know.
Interviewer
Presumably you had some form of survival training?
Pat Musters
We had survival packs and a set of jungle boots. We also carried carbide, with which to make hydrogen to fill a balloon, which was then let up on a string up between the trees but it is surprising how difficult it is to see one small white balloon from altitude even though it is surrounded by dark green trees. It is very small.
Interviewer
Did you ever use any of these other facilities like cable laying or message pick-up?
Pat Musters
We never tried message pick-up. We did message dropping only. There was no opportunity for message pick up. I suppose there might have been, for instance, visiting a barracks in Melaka. The airstrip at Melaka was a long way from the barracks where the 63 brigade’s headquarters was at the time. I once had to go and drop a message there in very bad weather and then fly back. There would have been an opportunity to pick up a message from there, I suppose, had there been a requirement but there wasn’t.
Interviewer
Did you lay out any of the telephone cable?
Pat Musters
No.
Interviewer
Everything was far too mobile.
Pat Musters
I never tried that. That sounds like a job for a helicopter.
Interviewer
The Austers were fitted out to have a rack with all these drums coiled.
Pat Musters
I didn’t know that. On the Auster Nine?
Interviewer
Yes, and the early ones.
Pat Musters
I didn’t know.
Interviewer
It surprised me but the idea was you literally flew across the terrain laying the cable down, which must have been alright for a short while but it wouldn’t last very long. It only wanted someone to break the wire somewhere and that was it. Were the radio communications and so on very reliable as you were still on valve sets, weren’t you?
Pat Musters
We were on valve sets. We had the 19 set for long range and we would unwind 100 yards of aerial out of the Auster Six. We also had the 62 set, which had a shorter range. We also had VHF fitted for use communicating to the Lincoln squadron when we were marking targets and that was fine. We used to try and call up the airfields like Ipoh or Tai Ping on an HF set. Quite often you could be barely 20 miles away and they couldn’t hear you calling but Sandakan in Borneo would come up and say “Ipoh, army 693 is calling you.” So you were getting through long range to Borneo but not short range to Ipoh, for instance. You couldn’t get through until they worked their ideas out and came back to you and probably they simply hadn’t been paying attention.
Interviewer
Presumably when you were in amongst the mountains that was a blockage to radio?
Pat Musters
Not with a long trailing aerial as you were working sky wave.
Interviewer
Presumably you always had to remember to wind it in?
Pat Musters
Yes, you had to wind it in like hell. Quite often if you were winding in at 5,000 you would find yourself getting breathless. ((laughs))
Interviewer
It was real high altitude stuff. Did the performance of the Mark Six and Seven fall off quite rapidly with altitude?
Pat Musters
Yes. I have already mentioned dropping supplies to the SAS at over 5,000 feet only 100 feet off the trees. You had to be aware of what you were doing and keep your eyes open.
Interviewer
Were there always good constant supplies of the proper maintenance stuff or did people often have to work things out for themselves?
Pat Musters
In so far as I am aware there was absolutely no difficulty at all. One had the most excellent ground grew of RAF chaps and every so often you would fly the aircraft up for minor and major inspections at Kuala Lumpur. There was a Mason’s Supply Services – MSS – in Kuala Lumpur and the squadron leader who was running it is now a counsellor in Melton Mowbray. He recognised me. I didn’t recognise him I’m sorry to say. ((laughs))
Interviewer
Did they always have what you wanted?
Pat Musters
Indeed.
Interviewer
Were supplies moved about by Valettas in those days?
Pat Musters
Yes. There was also an Anson that would deliver the daily newspapers up at Tai Ping. Tai Ping was a big grass airfield. There was no hard runway there and I remember visiting Tai Ping – my old stamping ground – when the flight commander there had changed. At that time it had become a huge six foot six or more ex-glider pilot – a big heavy man – known as Tiny. I watched him trying to take off on Tai Ping airfield with a large passenger behind him in an Auster Six. It was a very long takeoff run but he eventually made it and got off.
Interviewer
I imagine it would have been a gradual climb out.
Pat Musters
Yes. One can almost imagine the wings curling up like a Lancaster with a 10,000 ((?)) on it. ((laughs))
Interviewer
When you were training did you ever have cause to take aeroplanes up to Rearsby at all?
Pat Musters
No. Rearsby was an unknown quantity. I just knew that Austers were built at Rearsby. I had no idea where Rearsby was. The midlands were a foreign country to me; I’m a southerner. It was only when we came here 25 years ago that we happened to pass through Rearsby. “Where’s the Auster factory?” I have no idea where it was in Rearsby actually.
Interviewer
It’s still there.
Pat Musters
Is it?
Interviewer
What happened was after the war they had big problems. They had a scheme for producing civil types but the military also released a lot of ex-wartime Mark Fives and their expansion plans could have led the company into financial difficulties because they invested a lot of money in dealerships and got aeroplanes out to dealerships and then they weren’t bought. They had to retrench. During the war they’d done a lot of aircraft repair on not just Austers but Typhoons, Hurricanes and Tiger Moths. Those contacts with motor trade people who were in aircraft repair meant they could get subcontract car part work and the first job they did was the Morris Oxford column gear change. This was because they did tube work. ((tape stops suddenly))

All of these transcripts are available in a single file in several formats.


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