Reunion at Old Sarum

Will Harrell with the Auster WZ 662 he had not seen for more than half a century

Will Harrell with the Auster WZ 662 he had not seen for more than half a century

First published in Forces focus

A FORMER member of 656 Squadron has been reunited with the aircraft he last saw during his National Service in Malaya.

Will Harrell, 75, who lives in Pitton, saw Auster WZ 662 at a fly-in of Auster aircraft by the International Auster Association at Old Sarum Airfield.

Five Austers flew in from Eggesford Airfield in Devon and were greeted by an appreciative audience of former members of 565 Squadron Army Air Corps Association, friends and families.

Three of the aircraft were the military Mark 9 version which had been flown by the squadron when they were deployed in Malaya during the Communist uprising in the 1950s.

Mr Harrell was a Royal Artillery signaller in the squadron which was used on air observation duties over the jungle and sometimes as VIP transport, as denoted by the five star plate on the nose of the aircraft.

“I was only a national serviceman,” said Mr Harrell, “so my history with the squadron is fairly brief. I was trained as a Royal Artillery signaller and many of the aircraft had RA pilots and signallers in those days and we had special radio routines for flying and shooting the guns.

“I asked to go to Hong Kong after training, but was told that as a National Serviceman I had to go to Malaya to join 656 Squadron and I spent my ser-vice in a Royal Naval air station in Singapore, much of my time in the control tower and flying as an observer.

“It was lovely for some of us who were out in Malaya to see the Austers again, it brings back memories of flying time and the aircraft that we used to use. The pilots are so enthusiastic, they just love their Austers even though none of them flew Austers militarily, for us it is like a mini reunion.”

One of the Austers based at Eggesford is one of three, MK III's flying in Europe. MT 438 served with 656 Squadron during the Second World War in the Burma campaign and is owned and operated by airline pilot John Vetch who served in Malaya in the early 1950s.

The 656 Association was formed by Nobby Clarke, who flew with the squadron in Burma during the Second World War. It now has more than 400 members with veterans who served in Burma, Malaya, Borneo, Rhodesia, the Falklands War, Bosnia and Afghanistan.

Currently 656 Squadron is based at Wattisham in Suffolk and is equipped with the Apache Attack helicopter.

Nine air observation squadrons were based at Old Sarum during the Second World War, but not 656 Squadron, although there is a memorial on the airfield commemorating their actions.

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