FLYING Officer Alastair Maclay knew the risks when he took off on a reconnaissance mission to France in November 1942.

The 28-year-old, who was born in Union Street in Hamilton, was part of a unit flying highly dangerous, clandestine operations during the war.

The PRU – Photographic Reconnaissance Unit – captured more than 26 million images of enemy activity which proved instrumental in the planning of major operations such as the D-Day landings and the Dambusters Raid.

Due to the perilous nature of their work – they flew solo operations, unarmed and unarmoured – the death rate was nearly 50%.

Flying Officer Maclay trained as a pilot with both 140 and 16 Photographic Reconnaissance Squadrons.

On November 29, 1942, he took off from RAF Weston Zoyland in Somerset in an RAF Mustang aircraft – but he never returned.

Both he and his aircraft remain missing to this day.

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Pilot Officer Alexander Dick, who was born in Carluke, also trained as a reconnaissance pilot, serving with 681 and 684 Photographic Reconnaissance Squadrons based in the Far East theatre of operations.

He survived the war but little else is known of both his service and personal life.

Now, Lanark and Hamilton East MP Angela Crawley is backing a campaign to commemorate men like Maclay and Dick, the brave pilots and navigators of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit.

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 information it gathered was used by all the armed forces, giving same day intelligence on enemy activity.

Glasgow Times:

The intelligence provided by the PRU was used in the Cabinet War Rooms – now the Churchill War Rooms located underneath the Treasury – and was also instrumental in the monitoring of major shipping movements such as the Bismarck and Tirpitz, and the locating of the launch site of the V1 and V2 rockets at Peenemunde.

The PRU was formed on September 24, 1939 and 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.

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The Spitfire AA810 Project is calling for a memorial to the pilots and navigators of the PRU. Spearheaded by Anthony Hoskins, who has had a lifelong interest in aviation, the campaign aims to recognise the 1500 men of the unit as well as the interpreters of the photographs, who were mostly women.

Angela Crawley said: “I am delighted to support this fantastic campaign to commemorate those who served in the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit.

“This includes Alastair Maclay and Alexander Dick from my constituency, who both served admirably under exceptionally difficult conditions, while Maclay sadly lost his life during service.

Glasgow Times: Robert Tomlinson taxies Spitfire AA810 at RAF Wick, 1942Robert Tomlinson taxies Spitfire AA810 at RAF Wick, 1942 (Image: Gunn family)

“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.”

Did you know Alastair Maclay or Alexander Dick, or are you aware of anyone who served in the PRU during the war?

Visit or get in touch with Tony Hoskins on if you can help.