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Lighting Their Legacy: Spitfire AA810 and Commonwealth War Graves Commission shine a light on the forgotten few of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit ahead of D-Day 80.

Spitfire AA810 and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) will collaborate to commemorate the Royal Air Force Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, as well as those missing or who were killed as part of the wider campaign of the CWGC to mark this poignant year of sacrifice. In the coming weeks the nation pauses to commemorate the successful D-Day landings at Normandy that helped turn the tide of the war against Hitler. Much of the preparation and planning for D Day, as well as real-time intelligence, was gathered by brave photographic reconnaissance pilots, who flew unarmed Spitfires and Mosquitos over enemy territory with specially adapted cameras. Their WAAF counterparts worked tirelessly at RAF Medmenham to interpret and analyse stereoscopic images, including Sarah Churchill, Churchill’s daughter. Thanks to the imagery captured by the PRU, detailed information about the topography of the Normandy coastline could be transformed into 3D maps, and accurate information could be gathered about German anti-landing defences.

The CWGC currently commemorates globally 514 aircrew who flew for the RAF PRU, be it a name on a memorial, or an actual grave, in cemeteries stretching across the globe as pilots flew across all theatres of operation from RAF Benson to Burma. There are 98 names commemorated on the Runnymede memorial. Reconnaissance aircraft were painted differently from their fighter counterparts- in either blue or pink. Nearly 1500 pilots flew for the RAF Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, their lonely and unarmed operations meant they suffered proportionally one of the highest casualty rates in the Second World War, whilst bringing home some 26 million images during the war for the allied intelligence effort. The Spitfire AA810 project is working to establish a permanent monument to both the crews and the interpreters in London, and are appealing for the families of those who served to come for to tell their stories.

D-Day would not have been possible were it not for the intelligence gathered from these reconnaissance sorties that involved pilots flying further, higher, and faster than ever before, young men flying into their own battles armed only with a camera. The PRU also bravely flew unarmed missions on D Day itself, capturing some of the most iconic aerial images of Operation Overlord.

The CWGC Lighting Their Legacy torch, like many of the PRU aircrew, began its journey to the UK in Canada and on the 30th May, will arrive at Runnymede. A torch lighting event will then commence at Runnymede that pays tribute to these iconic and brave airmen as part of the wider commemoration to shine a light on those who helped free Europe from Nazi tyranny. A torch will be lit and passed to the ‘younger generation’, in a commemoration that is both global and poignant given that Commonwealth troops played such a seismic part in the landings themselves. The torch will then be passed onto further sites in the UK, finishing in Normandy to mark the landings in France.

The torches have been designed by three Canadian undergraduate Mechanical Engineering students from McMaster University in Ontario. They were tasked to overcome the challenges and technicalities needed to build a torch, including the weight and fuel, as part of a degree project which allowed them to reflect on why commemoration is important to them, and why it continues to be relevant for future generations.

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2 commentaires

David Scothorn
David Scothorn
24 mai

We light their legacy to honour the path they lit for us


22 mai

It's important for us to remember and reflect on these moments of tunnel rush history.

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