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Remembered Today:

Pigeon Units


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Were there specific units designated to look after the pigeons used for carrying messages or were they members of a normal infantry battalion who were given this specific duty ?

Also were pigeons used in Mespotamia bearing in mind the climate ?

Many thanks

Rob Hamilton

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HERITAGE PLUS

The following scans are from 'Pigeon to Packhorse' by Alan Harfield (Picton 1988)

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HERITAGE PLUS

Scan 2

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HERITAGE PLUS

Scan 3

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The Operational Orders of the 2nd Canadian Division for the (6-Nov-17) attack on Passchendaele contains the following snippet:

(iii). Pigeons.

(a). On "Y" day 40 Pigeons will be issued to 5th Brigade.

and 20 " " " " " 6th Brigade.

On "Z" day 20 " " " " " 6th Brigade.

and 10 " " " " " 5th Brigade.

After "Z" day, 12 pigeons per day will be issued to the

Brigade in the line.

(B). Despatch Riders will deliver birds for this Division at

MILL COTT (I.5.a.1.7.) at 12 Noon daily.

©. Birds home at POPERINGE whence messages are transmitted

by wire.

We can easily see why Battalions had no pigeon sections. There was no time to train the birds to "home" to a particular place when the unit only arrived in the sector a day or two before an operation.

However, the infantry battalions actually carried the birds forward and released them. At the Passchendaele show, a typical unit sent two birds forward with each company. I am not sure if they were of any use on this occaision.

I do not know much about pigeons. I know more today than I did yesterday.

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Heritage Plus

Your becoming my saviour !

Many thanks for the information. From what I can gather there was a seperate Carrier Pigeon Service which was part of the RE Signal Service.

James

I suppose it's quite obvious when you think about it that battalions were unable to have their own pigeons so they were kept in one part of the front by a specialist unit.

Regards

Rob

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Rob,

There was a separate Carrier Pigeon Service established in the Signal Services.

At General HQ there were 16 personnel assigned to the Pigeon service. Under GHQ was the "Loft" which had 100 NCO's and Pioneers. The lofts were distributed all over the place with 1 NCO and 1 Pioneer to each town with not more than 4 lofts. Later these lofts were consolidated and used to support specific armies. In 1918 they were located at Condette, Bryas, Fosse 7 (Lens), Courtai, Mouseron, Arry, Le Quesnoy, and Perrone.

An Army HQ and a Corps HQ would each have 2 Men assigned to the Pigeon service.

A Cavalry Division would have 4 Pigeon stations of 9 men drawn from the unit.

An Infantry Brigade would have 2 Pigeon Stations with a total of three men.

To distribute the birds Motor Mobile Pigeon Lofts of 2 men and Horse drawn Mobile Lofts of 2 men were established. In 1918 there were 4 Motor Lofts in France and 127 Horse Lofts (numbered 1 through 170).

Joe Sweeney

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I thought it might be interesting to see two orders issued from GHQ at 0650 on 11 November 1918:

The order went out from GHQ at 0650 that day announcing the end of hostilities at 11.00am:

“Troops will hold fast on the line reached by that hour, which will be reported by wire to advanced GHQ. Defensive precautions will be maintained. There will be no intercourse of any description with the enemy until the receipt of instructions from GHQ.”

At the same time a further order went out to all armies that:

“Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 5 Motor Mobile Pigeon Lofts will be transferred forth-with into GHQ reserve in situ.”

Martin

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Joe/Martin

Thanks for the info. I'm building up a good picture of these units thanks to all of you.

One more question. What unit would the official records show these men as serving in.

Many thanks

Rob

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Pigeons came up in a talk given by Mike Young (former Lt-Col RCT and author of an excellnt book on the ASC 1914-18) at my local WFA branch last week. He said that there was an officer based at GHQ who had overall responsibility for the mobile pigeon lofts - his title was "OC Pigeons, Western Front"

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Guest Ian Bowbrick

Recently the History Channel ran a series about animals at war, and there was a very interesting piece on the use of carrier pigeons in WW1. I am sure it will be repeated in the near future.

Ian :)

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At least one of the Motor Mobile units was a simple conversion of a London B type bus - possibly all of them were such conversions.

As an aside Kate asks was the officer in command a "Flight Lieutenant" or a "Wing Commander"?

Martin

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I find this thread on the mobile pigeon lofts quite intriguing. In my experience it was bad enough getting the birds trained to come back to a static loft never mind a mobile one.

Kilty ;)

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  • 5 months later...

I have revived this thread to share with the pigeon enthusiasts an article from my weekend newspaper. The next time that you have an hour or two to spare in Paris, then head for the Musee de la Poste [in the Montparnasse neighbourhood] where currently there is an exhibition called "Pigeon Vole!" dedicated to the brave exploits of the carrier pigeon.

The newspaper article can be found here

Alas, missing from the internet version is the accompanying cartoon by Ronald Serle; too good to miss, so it has been added below.

Regards

Michael D.R.

post-2-1075471408.jpg

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The most famous pigeon must be Cher Ami of Lost Battalion fame. This was a group from 3 battalions, never lost al all, deep in the Argonne near Charlevaux Mill in 1918 which advanced farther than troops on either side and was surrounded for several days. A classic book about this is in reprint, should be easy to find, named the Lost Battalion by I think Johnson & another, let me know if you need the ISBN etc.

The site is easily visited today, well marked on the road on a very steep slope down to where the men were for days with German fire, grenades thrown down the hill, US artillery repeatedly hitting them. Most were casualties, reusing bandages from dead, hungry etc. Air drops repeatedly failed.

There last bird was Cher Ami, it flew to a nearby branch, was chased off and completed its mission. It is now in the Smithsonian, still minus the leg that was shot off.

There were 2 CMOH, 1 to the CO Charles Whittlsley a NY lawyer who jumped off a Havana bound boat a few years later haunted by his experience.

Read it!

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were pigeons used in Mespotamia bearing in mind the climate ?

Paul,

Many thanks for the details on Cher Ami, who for some reason or another does not get a mention in the French exhibition

Rob,

I am sorry that I missed your question the first time around.

I cannot answer for Mespot, but pigeons were certainly used in the Palestine campaign.

As for the effects of climate, I would think that they were negligible. If I am not mistaken the Rock Dove originally came from such mountainous desert regions and it is man with his construction of stone buildings and their comfortable ledges which has encouraged the bird's migration into areas of civilization in more temperate regions.

2300 to 2000 years ago people in the middle east kept pigeons in huge numbers in 'columbaria' constructed in underground caverns. The pigeons provided eggs and meat, sacrificial objects for Greeks, Romans, Jews etc and their droppings may also have been used as fertiliser. At one place 85 such caves have been found, the biggest of them containing 2000 pigeon holes.

It has been said that in those days a pigeon provided the perfect one person meal. With no left-overs to be kept at a time two millenia before refrigeration, a fresh pigeon was the first fast food.

Regards

Michael D.R.

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