Sir Oliver Heald, MP for North East Hertfordshire, is backing the campaign to commemorate the brave pilots and navigators of the Photographic Reconnaissance Units (PRU) during the Second World War.
Photo Reconnaissance Units
The PRU was formed on the 24th of September 1939 and throughout the Second World War it operated highly dangerous, clandestine photographic reconnaissance operations over all theatres of operation, and captured more than 26 million images of enemy operations and installations during the war.
The purpose of the PRU was to provide up-to-date intelligence to strategically plan the Allied actions in the war. Flying Spitfires and Mosquitos, the intelligence it gathered was used by all the armed forces, giving same day intelligence on enemy activity.
The intelligence provided by the PRU was used in the Cabinet War Rooms – now the ‘Churchill War Rooms’ located underneath the Treasury – and was instrumental in the planning of major operations; D-Day and the Dambusters Raid, the monitoring of major shipping movements such as the Bismarck and Tirpitz, and the locating of the site of the V1 and V2 rocket launching site at Peenemünde.
Due to the clandestine nature of their operations – they flew solo operations, unarmed and unarmoured – the death rate was nearly fifty percent. However, despite having one of the lowest survival rates of the war – life expectancy in the PRU was around two and a half months – there is no national memorial to the PRU.
The ‘Spitfire AA810 Project’ has therefore led the campaign to establish such a memorial to the PRU pilots and navigators.
Among those who served in the PRU was Anthony Hill.
Squadron Leader Anthony Hill
S/Ldr Anthony Eustace Hill DSO DFC was the eldest son of Col. Eustace Hill DSO, former commander of the 104th Essex Yeomanry Brigade, the family living in Elmwood House in Ashwell.
Educated at Harrow he was set to become a director of Fordham Brewery. He was a keen aviator and he joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve, becoming a Pilot Officer in March 1939 and a Flying Officer in September 1940.
He joined No.1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit and was the first pilot to photograph the Scandinavian cities of Copenhagen and Malmo in April 1941.
He was awarded the DFC for his reconnaissance skills in May of 1941 and by August of that year he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant. In December of 1941 he carried out the reconnaissance of the Wurzburg radar station at Bruneval ahead of the British commando operation that captured elements of the radar unit which gave the allies significant intelligence on the German radar capability.
He gained a bar to his DFC in March 1942 with the citation stating; 'this officer has carried out many successful operational flights over hostile territory and has shown outstanding skill and determination."
Tony was to become a specialist in low-level reconnaissance photography of radar sites, over many months he brought back many images of different types of radar installation, his work earning him the DSO in August 1942 and then the rank of Acting Squadron Leader.
He was given the command of 543 Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, to take effect from the 19thOctober 1942 - that very same day he was to photograph the results of a daylight raid on the Schneider Works at Le Creusot in France. German fighters were waiting for him and his Spitfire was brought down with him badly wounded.
He was taken prisoner and was transferred to hospital but eventually succumbed to his injuries on the 12th November 1942.
Tony Hill was just 28 and is today still buried in a small cemetery in Dijon.
Supporting the campaign is local MP, Oliver Heald. Commenting:
“I am delighted to support this campaign to commemorate those who served in the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit.
This includes Anthony Hill (known as Tony), who served admirably under difficult conditions, and sadly lost his life during service.
I look forward to working with the Spitfire AA810 Project to establish this memorial and to being able to pay my respects there once it is completed.”
If there is anyone related to Anthony Eustace Hill, or if anyone know someone who served in the PRU during the war, please go the Spitfire AA810 Project website (www.spitfireaa810.co.uk), or get in touch with Tony Hoskins, Tony@spitfireaa810.co.uk.