THE ROLE OF PIGEON FANCIERS AND THEIR BIRDS DURING WARTIME.
A short article by the master of controversy - "Spinksy"
It is a little known fact to the public at large that racing pigeons and their owners played a major role during wartime towards the eventual peace. Pigeons were deemed to be of such importance that special services were set up by military commanders for the purpose of news relay and espionage. Whilst radio transmissions could be intercepted - the pigeon went silently with speedy efficiency. Barely a single aircraft left base without their trusty pigeons in case of mishap, and ground troops used them to fullest potential from points behind enemy lines. One wonderful account is given on Boglin Marsh Portal via the pen of the late Captain W. Mather who served with the Indian Pigeon Service which was just one of many that were active in various theatres of war. Pigeons braved all seasons and conditions to bring the vital messages through - they were flown over oceans, deserts and even through the densest of jungle. They carried photographic equipment for survey purposes of enemy troop movement or armament cache - they were even used to disable enemy searchlights when missions were in progress.
The Middle East Pigeon Service started with 6 birds, during January 1942; developed large breeding lofts on the edge of the desert at Digla, Cairo, under Lt.-Col. Hollingworth as C.S.O. Pigeons and served the 8th Army in North Africa and Italy. They also served the 9th Army and the R.A.F. to develop the Nomad System (this was a two way system similar to the Boomerang method and using mobile lofts) - on this system a 6 months old hen pigeon carried a message back to base from a distance of 500 miles, 260 miles of which was over water. The Nomad System was developed as an alternative to parachuting pigeons into isolated areas. The pigeon was trained to leave an aircraft at 1,000 feet and recognise a marked basket in a field or open area, then pitch into it, returning to its home loft later with a message attached. It was used in the Middle East and also the Ruhr area (see 'Ruhr Express' - trained on this method) The Indian Pigeon Service used the Boomerang System, where pigeons were trained to fly both ways between two lofts - one to feed, the other to nest and were able to do this and navigate through dense jungle over 25-30 miles and behind enemy lines in Burma or Malaya. Some of these lofts recorded over 1,000 successful flights with message carrying pigeons and the true value was in the number of lives that were not placed into positions of further risk, due to the valuable information obtained. There were secret Pigeon Services in France (Maquis), Holland, Belgium and Denmark, where those involved risked death for keeping pigeons. These also supplied vital information of enemy troop movements etc. Other valuable service was rendered by American, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian Pigeon Services (see below)
On the Internet you will find amongst the Pigeon fanciers websites, others of tremendous prominence carrying the headline - 'Pigeon Fanciers Kill Peregrine Falcons'. Of course it is highly sensational, mostly conjecture and has very little foundation in truth - Pigeon fanciers do not wantonly slaughter falcons, nor any other raptor. I cannot remember when a pigeon fancier was last prosecuted for such an act - pigeon fanciers lobby in a legal manner for controls over the pigeons natural and most dangerous enemy. I took it upon myself to email the head of the Raptor Conservation Group - he's a local lad, so why not? I asked him to please desist from the use of the balatant untruthful headlines used on that site and the generalisation of pigeon fancier character. I invited him to write an article for my website (a pigeon fanciers website) putting the case for raptors and reason for total protection. He replied courteously but, declined my offer upon the grounds of having no time to write. I then made a further offer for him to find a member of his organisation who might just have the time? I have since heard nothing! I would say to him - "look at the list below and tell me - when did a Peregrine Falcon last serve its country in Wartime, then receive the highest animal accolade possible?" For those who Don't know - The 'Dickin Medal' is awarded for Valour by Animals - it is in effect the animal equivalent of the 'Victoria Cross' I would also ask him - "When did Falconers last donate £100,000-00p to Charity?" Pigeon fanciers far exceed that amount per annum and from one Show alone - over the last few years it has exceeded the One Million Pounds mark. At the end of the day - which comes first - the Pigeon or the Peregrine? Which has greater value as a servant to Mankind?
The Dickin Medal ~ The recipients and the citations:
'ALL ALONE' - NURP 39 SDS 39 - Awarded February 1946. "For delivering an important message in one day over a distance of 400 miles while serving with the NPS in August 1943."
'BILLY' NU41 HQ 4373'' - Awarded August 1945. "For delivering a message from a force-landed bomber while in a state of complete collapse and under exceptionally bad weather conditions, while serving with the RAF in 1942."
'BROAD ARROW' - 41 2793 - Awarded October 1945. "For bringing important messages from enemy occupied country three times, viz: May 1943, June 1943 and August 1943 while serving with the Special Service from the Continent."
' BEACH COMBER' - NPS 41 4230 - Awarded March 1944. "For bringing the first news to this country of the landing at Dieppe under hazardous conditions in September 1942, while serving with the Canadian Army.
'COLOGNE' - NURP 39 NPS 144. "For homing from a crashed aircraft over Cologne although seriously wounded, while serving with the RAF in 1943."
'COMMANDO' - NURP 38 EGU 242 - Awarded March 1945. "For successfully delivering messages from agents in occupied France on three occasions: twice under exceptionally adverse conditions, while serving with the NPS in 1942."
'DUKE OF NORMANDY' - NURP 41 SBC 219 - Awarded January 1947. "For being the first bird to arrive with a message from Paratroops of 21st Army Group behind enemy lines on D Day June 6th 1944, while serving the APS."
' DUTCH COAST' - NURP 41 A 2164 - Awarded March 1945. "For delivering an SOS from a ditched Air Crew close to the enemy coast 288 miles distant in 7.5 hours, under very unfavourable conditions, while serving with the RAF in April 1942.
'DD 43 TQ 879' (Australian Army Signals Corps)- AwardedFebruary 1947. "During an exceptionally heavy tropical storm, June 1945, Army Boat 1402 foundered on Wardour Beach in the Heron Gulf. This pigeon was released with the message 'Engine failed washed on Beach Wardour owing to heavy seas. Send help immediately. Craft rapidly filling with sand.' The pigeon homed to Madang through heavy rain, 40 miles in 50 minutes. As a result a rescue ship was sent to the craft and a valuable cargo salvaged. The bird flew 23 operations totalling 1004 miles."
'GI JOE' - USA 43 SC 6390 - Awarded 1946. "This bird is credited with making the most outstanding flight by a US Army Pigeon in World War II. Making the 20 miles flight from British 10th Army HQ, in the same number of minutes, it brought a message which arrived just in time to save the lives of at 100 allied soldiers from being bombed by their own planes.
'GUSTAV' - NPS 42 31066 - Awarded September 1944. "For delivering the first message from the Normandy Beaches from a ship off the beach-head while serving with the RAF on June 6th 1994.
'KENLEY LASS' - NURP 36 JH 190 - Awarded March 1945. "For being the first pigeon to be used with success for secret communications from an agent in enemy-occupied France while serving with the NPS in October 1920.
'MERCURY' - NURP 37 CEN 335 - Awarded August 1946. "For carrying out a special task involving a flight of 480 miles from Northern Denmark while serving the Special Section of the Army Pigeon Service in July 1942."
'MARY' - NURP 40 WCE 249 - Awarded November 1945. "For outstanding endurance on War Service in spite of injury."
'MAQUIS' - NPS NS 36392 - Awarded October 1945. "For bringing important messages three times from an enemy occupied country, viz: May 1943 (Amiens), February 1944(Combined Operations) and in June 1944 (French Maquis) while serving with the Special Service from the Continent."
'NAVY BLUE' - NPS 41 NS 2X62 - Awarded March 1945. "For delivering an important message from a Raiding Party on the West Coast of France, although injured, while serving with the RAF in June 1944.
NURP 43 CC 1414 - Awarded January 1947. "For the fastest flight with a message from 6th Airborne Division Normandy, 7th June 1944, while serving with APS."
NPS 42 NS 278 - Awarded October 1945. " For bringing important messages three times from an enemy occupied country, viz: July 1942, August 1942 and April 1943, while serving with the Special Service from the Continent."
NPS 42 NS 7524 - Awarded
October 1945. " For bringing important messages three times from an enemy
occupied country, viz: May 1943 and July 1943, while serving with the
Special Service from the Continent."
'PADDY' - NPS 43 9451 - Awarded September 1944. "For the best recorded time with a message from the Normandy Operations while serving with the RAF in June 1994.
'PRINCESS' -43 WD 593 - Awarded May 1946. "Sent on a special mission to Crete, this pigeon returned to her loft (RAF Alexandria) having travelled about 500 miles mostly over sea, with most valuable information. One of the finest performances in the war record of the Pigeon Service.
'PIGEON' - NURP 38 BPC 6 - Awarded August 1946. "For three outstanding flights from France while serving with the Special Section of the Army Pigeon Service 11th July 1941, 9th September 1941 and 29th November 1941.
'RUHR EXPRESS' - NPS 43 29018 - Awarded May 1945. "For carrying an important message from the Rhur Pocket in excellent time, while serving with the RAF in April 1945.
'SCOTCH LASS' - NPS 42 21610 - Awarded June 1945. "For bringing 38 microphotographs across the North Sea in good time although injured, while serving with the RAF in Holland in September 1944.
'TYKE' - 1263 MEPS 43 - Awarded December 1943. " For delivering a message under exceptionally difficult conditions and so contributing to the rescue of an Air Crew while serving with the RAF in The Mediterranean in June 1943
'TOMMY' - NURP 41 DHZ 56 - Awarded February 1946. "For delivering valuable messages from Holland to Lancashire under difficult conditions, while serving with the NPS in July 1942."
'WINKIE' - NEHU 40 NSI - Awarded December 1943. " For delivering a message under exceptionally difficult conditions, and so contributing to the rescue of an Air Crew while serving with the RAF in February 1942.
'WILLIAM OF ORANGE' - Awarded May 1945. "For delivering a message from the Arnhem Airborne Operation in record time for any single pigeon, while serving with the APS in September 1944." This pigeon was released at 4.30am with an important despatch and performed the unequalled feat of covering 260 miles - 135 of them over sea in 4 hours 25 minutes to his home loft. The flying speed was therefore 1740 yards per minute, nearly 60 miles per hour, showing great endurance and determination.
'WHITE VISION' - Awarded December 2nd 1943. "For delivering a message under exceptionally difficult conditions and so contributing to the rescue of an air crew while serving with the RAF in October 1943." A flying-boat had to ditch off the Hebrides at 8.20 one morning. Sea-rescue operations were hindered by very bad weather and air search was impossible because of thick mist. At 5pm that afternoon White Vision arrived at her loft with a message giving the position of the ditched aircraft and as a result the search was resumed, the aircraft sighted and rescue of the crew effected. White Vision had flown 60 miles over heavy seas against a head wind of 25 miles an hour with visibility only a hundred yards at the place of release and three hundred yards at the place of arrival.
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