WW2 veteran Michael Jones on his 60 missions as an RAF pilot
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Plans are being pushed for a new permenant memorial for the forgotten heroes of the Second World War who flew vitel missions to act as Winston Churchill’s eyes in the sky. Ministers are in discussions with campaigners from the Spitfire AA810 Project to erect a new permanent memorial to the around 1,500 Spitfire pilots from 21 countries who flew thousands of dangerous reconnaissance missions over Europe providing photographs of enemy movements and targets from 1939 to 1945.
So far 1,486 names or partial names have been found of the men who served in the missions.
Of the 1,164 individuals fully identified, 586 are confirmed casualties, more than 50 percent of the young men who took part in the reconnaissance flights.
But no memorial has been erected for the men who carried out essential missions which helped win the war against Nazi Germany.
Now, 122 MPs have backed proposals to erect a monument in Westminster near the Churchill War Rooms where the photographs taken would be sent to be analysed.
In his account (video above), Michael Jones, one of the last few survivors, now 101, who flew 60 reconnaissance missions, spoke of his emotions when he volunteered.
“I wanted to go and fly spitfires against the enemy, simple as that.
“It sounds silly, but that’s how it was. No great ambition or anything like that.
“I admit…that my very first mission, and I am no hero, I emphasise this, I was scared stiff.
“My first operation was France over the beaches. I was scared rotten.
“Thereafter things became much more manageable.”
Typically reconnaissance flights were in single aircraft flying at 30,000 feet.
The youngest casualties were all aged 19, the oldest casualty was 37. The average age of death in the unarmed RAF reconnaissance units was 22. At the peak attrition rate through 1942, life expectancy was around 13 weeks from joining the squadron, which equated to around 20 missions.
Throughout the war, the RAF took some 26 million photographs, so far only around 1.3 million of those images have been digitised for archival purposes.
These photographs were interpreted for intelligence by Photographic Interpreters (PIs) working at a number of sites across the UK. Well known PIs include, Sarah Churchill (daughter of Winston), Lady Charlotte Bonham-Carter (relative of the actress Helena Bonham-Carter) and Dirk Bogarde (actor). the information they processed was passed to the Cabinet War Rooms for the strategic planning of the Allied campaign.
The planes would not carry guns or ammunition to allow for extra fuel tanks which gave them an extra range of 2,000 miles.
Project Leader of Spitfire AA810, Tony Hoskins, said: “These planes had no protection and no means of defending themselves.
“The idea was to make them as light as possible to achieve the maximum speed and altitude. Stripped to the bones, a PRU Spitfire could fly much faster and higher than a fighter mark of Spitfire.”
So far the project has been backed by 68 Tory MPs including some ministers, 45 Labour, six Lib Dems, two Democratic Unionists from Northern Ireland (DUP) and one from Plaid Cymru.
Former cabinet minister David Jones said: “I am delighted to support this wonderful campaign to commemorate those who served in the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit under exceptionally difficult conditions, and who ultimately died in service of our country,” he said.
“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.”
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The memorial will be paid for with money from private donors but campaigners want the government to donate a small patch of land in Westminster for it to be erected on.
Planning permission will then be required from Westminster Council which has recently been taken over by the Labour Party.
While there is not a design yet for the memorial, it is understood it would be guided by the Battle of Britain memorial, although on a smaller scale.
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