Virendra Sharma, MP for Ealing Southall, 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 Melvyn Harris.
W/o Melvyn Harold Harris was born on 16 April 1918 in Ealing Southall, the son of William Harris, a banker, and his wife Edith. He joined his father in the West Ealing branch of the Westminster Bank in August 1935, moving to the Southall branch in April 1939.
He left the bank to join the RAF in September 1940. Learning to fly he was posted to 681 Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron based in the Far East theatre of operations. He would fly many operations over Burma and Thailand right up until the end of the war when tragedy would strike.
On the 19th June 1945, just two months before the end of the Second World War Melvyn took off in a Reconnaissance Spitfire from RAF Mingaladon and set course for his mission objective. No further news was ever heard from him and despite search and rescue attempts, no trace of him nor his aircraft were found.
He is remembered on the Singapore Memorial, and on the bank war memorial at the NatWest Southall branch, but remains missing in action to this day. He was just 27 years old.
Supporting the campaign is local MP, Virendra Sharma. Commenting:
“I am delighted to support this fantastic campaign to commemorate those who served in the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit.
This includes Melvyn Harris, who served admirably under exceptionally difficult conditions, and sadly lost his life during his service to our country.
I look forward to working with the Spitfire AA810 Project to establish this memorial and I look forward to being able to pay my respects there once it is completed.”
If there is anyone related to Melvyn Harris, 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, [email protected].