3 May 2009
Just for a change and between postings of pictures that have been a trifle infrequent of late, I have had to satisfy myself due to health with musings of previous trips out and the odd snap from my window, but nevertheless, birds are birds and there are those that will always be destined to be more numerous than others, therefore making less numerous species rarer and more desirable to seek out and list. I have compiled this article on Pigeons it is not usually discussed in birding circles but hope that you may find it of interest, so, beware there may be other articles in the pipeline. Pigeon fancying was an interest of mine as a child and shared a pigeon loft with a friend it turned out to be a five minute wonder and we gave away our birds. The following article is an insight into the role pigeon's played in safeguarding this countries security during wartime conflicts. Pigeons at War At the outbreak of World War 2 thousands of Britain’s pigeon fanciers gave their pigeons to the war effort to act as message carriers. During the period of the war nearly a quarter of a million birds were used by the army, the RAF and the Civil Defence Services including the police, the fire service, Home Guard and even Bletchley Park. Pigeon racing was stopped and birds of prey along the coasts of Britain were culled so that British pigeons could arrive home unhindered by these predators. There were tight controls on the keeping of pigeons and even rationing for pigeon corn.Homing pigeons were used not only in Western Europe by British forces but also by American, Canadian, and German forces in other parts of the world during the war – Italy, Greece, North Africa, India and the Middle and Far East. One pigeon, GI Joe, saved the lives of thousands of British troops who were preparing to take an Italian town after the US Air Force had bombarded the Germans. However, the British forces found no resistance from the Germans and so entered the town unchallenged. Unfortunately the USAF were already en route to bomb the town and with radio contact broken GI Joe fly over a mile a minute (60 mph) back to the base. He arrived back just in time for the air raid to be called off before the USAF would have bombed our troops. All RAF bombers and reconnaissance aircraft carried pigeons and, if the aircraft had to ditch, the plane’s co-ordinates were sent back with the pigeon to its RAF base and a search and rescue operation was effected. Thousands of servicemen’s lives were saved by these heroic birds that flew often in extreme circumstances. During World War II homing pigeons were seconded into the National Pigeon Service from Britain’s fanciers including one from the Royal Lofts. In fact one pigeon, Royal Blue, was the first pigeon to bring a message from a force-landed aircraft on the continent. On the 10th October 1940 this young bird was released in Holland. He flew 120 miles in 4 hours 10 minutes reporting the information regarding the situation of the crew. After the war, the Dickin Medal was instituted. Commonly known as the Animal VC, it was awarded to 53 animals including 32 homing pigeons including Royal Blue.Pigeons carried their messages either in special message containers on their legs or small pouches looped over their backs. Quite often pigeons were dropped by parachute in containers to Resistance workers in France, Belgium and Holland. This was often quite precarious as it was a bumpy landing and very dangerous for the Resistance workers if they were caught with a British pigeon. Aircrew carried their pigeons in special watertight baskets and containers, in case the aircraft had to ditch into the sea. Pigeon lofts were built at RAF and army bases but the mobile lofts had to be constructed so that they could move easily over land.The Dickin Medal was awarded for any animal displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during World War II and its aftermath. Of the 53 Dickin Medals presented, 32 went to pigeons.