There is a fine memorial in Green Park in London to the pilots and aircrew who served with Bomber Command in World War II.
There is a wonderful memorial at Capel-Le-Ferne near Folkestone to the pilots of the Battle of Britain.
What there isn’t is a national memorial to the crews of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit.
First formed in 1939, they flew critical flights over enemy territory in aircraft specially adapted to carry precision cameras to photograph and identify enemy targets, both before bombing and after to assess attacks. damage.
From October 1942, the unit was split into five squadrons: Nos: 540, 541, 542, 543 and 544.
The unit flew a variety of aircraft from Spitfires, Bristol Blenheims and Lockheed Hudsons to de Havilland Mosquitos.
During the six years of the war the unit took over 20 million photographs and the intelligence they provided was crucial to the success of the Dambusters Raid at Mohne, Eder and Sorpe Dams, for the discovery and destruction battleship Tirpitz, and for the discovery of the German V1 and V2 weapons production sites at Peenemunde in Holland, to name but a few.
For Guy Gibson and his brave Dambusters, Barnes Wallis had calculated that his bouncing bomb would only work when the water level in the reservoir was exactly 4 feet from the top of the dam.
Gibson later wrote, “All the time we were training we had reconnaissance planes flying over Germany watching the roadblocks like a cat watches a mouse. They never flew straight at them because then the Germans would know what they were looking for, but always took a circuitous route through the dams as if by accident. The first and most important thing they were looking for was the height of the water level – it was slowly rising.
The PRU airmen were able to pinpoint exactly when the water level was just right.
Their job meant they constantly flew unprotected over enemy territory, risking attack from enemy fighters and flak.
Without their courage, Bomber Command would have carried out its missions blindly.
But it came at a cost: over 500 PRU airmen lost their lives out of an estimated 1,300 who flew operational sorties – one of the highest casualty rates of any unit.
Among them was John Harrington Loder of Lenham.
Son of John Edmund and Gladys Mary Loder, his Mosquito was shot down in 1943. He was 25 years old.
He is buried in the eastern cemetery of Bouogne in the Pas de Calais in France.
Flt Lt Loder of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve had already been awarded the DFC for gallantry almost two years earlier, in September 1941.
Attached to 544 Squadron, he and his Canadian navigator P/O Trevor Hughes were assigned to a series of nighttime photographic missions – dropping high-intensity flares from altitude to illuminate the ground to capture nighttime troop movements and refueling in the north of France.
The pair had previously flown successful night missions, but on May 15 they took off from RAF Benson at 10.25pm and were due to return around midnight, but their plane was never seen again.
Some time later the body of Flt Lt Loder washed up on the shores of the English Channel near Boulogne-sur-Mer, suggesting they crashed at sea. The navigator’s body was never found.
John Loder is remembered on the Lenham War Memorial and a street in the village is named after him.
But now a nationwide campaign is underway to provide a proper memorial to members of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit.
It bears the project name Spitfire AA810, after a particular aircraft that flew with the unit.
The Spitfire AA810 was one of the fourth development of Spitfire adaptations for photographic reconnaissance work – the Spitfire P IV.
They were nicknamed the “bowsers” because of their impressive fuel-carrying capacity.
In addition to the standard 85 gallon fuselage tanks, the PR IV carried an additional 66 gallons per side in advanced fuel tanks, extending the range from 575 miles to 2,000 miles.
The downside was that the aircraft had to be stripped of all guns and armor plates, to offset the extra weight of fuel, leaving it completely defenceless.
It is perhaps unsurprising that the Spitfire AA810 was shot down on only its 16th mission, while photographing the Tirpitz.
Helen Whately, MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, is among several dozen MPs backing the campaign for a national memorial.
She said: “The intelligence provided by the PRU has been instrumental in the planning of many major operations.
“We owe so many – including our local hero John Loder – a debt of gratitude.
“Heroes like John deserve recognition and memorialization for their service, which is why I support plans for a memorial.”
You can find more details about the campaign here.
The campaign is eager to hear from parents of other flyers who have served with the PRU. They can contact Tony Hoskins by email at [email protected]