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Remembered Today:

Pigeons - modest heroes


geraint
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Silly question really, but I watched Verdun on History the other night, and the heroic attempts of Dernier Pidgeon at that battle. I know that the British Army were also using pigeons on a big scale to carry messeges.

A Pal pigeon fancier will undoubtedly correct me; but, for a homing pigeon to work it needs to instinctively know its home territory, and has flown back to its home loft on inummerable occasions. You take said pigeon in its basket, away from it's loft, open the basket, attach note to leg, and away it flies returning to it's loft.

In the war, a battalion took baskets of pigeons, and when necessary, send 'em off with messages to battalion or brigade or divisional headquarters. Did they have three sets of pigeons, one for each different 'loft'.

I've also seen photos of mobile pigeon lofts. How the b****y heck did said pigeon know how to return to a MOBILE home loft!

The answer is probably very simple, but I don't know what it is!

I'm presuming that Dernier Pigeon, being French, had it's home loft somewhere in the vicinity of Verdun, and was a piece of cake for it to return home. (Though it was shot down).

Mais, les pidgeons Anglais -ill sont perdue!

Geraint

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>><<

I've also seen photos of mobile pigeon lofts. How the b****y heck did said pigeon know how to return to a MOBILE home loft!

The answer is probably very simple, but I don't know what it is!

I'm presuming that Dernier Pigeon, being French, had it's home loft somewhere in the vicinity of Verdun, and was a piece of cake for it to return home.

Mais, les pidgeons Anglais -ill sont perdue!

Geraint

Well if you know your Blackadder*, a pigeon's life was dangerous enough as it was without getting lost!

* Presumably based on numerous true stories including:

On the 9
th
August, the last day of its first tour in trenches at Neuve Chapelle, the 14
th
Bn Y&L War Diary records:

A pigeon which was observed to come from the enemy line was shot down with rifle fire. The pigeon was not carrying any message, but had a ring round its leg and this identification suggests that this was undoubtedly an enemy pigeon.

Presumably it was eaten.

David

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Mobile is a slight misnomer. The lofts would be moved but only occasionally. So when for example an HQ relocated a loft might accompany it and then stay in its vicinity for some months.

Any of you remember that Blackadder episode where he gets court marshaled for shooting and eating a pigeon. Well folks shooting a carrier pigeon really was a court marshal offence (although not capital) and there is evidence that some did get eaten in the front line - for some reasons the Canadians appear to be more often mentioned in this connection)

I mentioned in an earlier thread somewhere that the French had problems as they camo'd their lofts (to avoid German recc flights using them to locate hqs etc) too well so that the birds couldn't find them either. This might suggest that the birds recognised the loft rather than just the location so that provided a loft was not too mobile they might find it provided it didn't move too far.

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I've seen an account of a tank crew whose tank was ditched under fire sending a pigeon off requesting assistance which never materialised. Eventually they managed to evacuate the tank and make it back to British lines (still under fire) and eventually back to their own battalion hq. Their pigeon arrived back and hour after them!

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A 'Mobile' Pigeon loft needed to stay put for about 2 weeks before the Pigeons would return to it.

They quickly aclimatise, in the same way as a cat does after moving house.

Yes each pigeon had its own loft, but bear in mind that each loft was in telephone contact with HQ, so it mattered not which bird you sent, as the message would still get there.

The average time for a message sent from trench to Battle HQ was 20 mins in the Great War.

About the same as a text message on New Years Eve today!

Cheers

Guy

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I'm sure I've read in some of my WW1 books that a message came back with 'I'm fed up carrying this pigeon round France'

Peter

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Thanks folks. A bit clearer now. Dernier pidgeon at Verdun was awarded an award - a 'Pour Merit' of somekind. Any Tommy pigeons awarded anything? (Apart for a double tot of Trill)

Geraint

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Hello,

I was told once, that Peregrine Falcons in England were persecuted in an attempt to protect carrier pigeons!!!!Not sure how this would have protected pigeons in France/Belgium,unless this persecution applied in these countries aswell.

Anthony.

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Hello,

I was told once, that Peregrine Falcons in England were persecuted in an attempt to protect carrier pigeons

An excuse used by many game keepers for shooting the birds when in fact they were more interested in preserving pheasant chicks.

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This has been on the news quite recently; bird of prey numbers are growing and Pedigree/champion racing pigeons can, apparently, be worth thousands - two different groups of bird fanciers with an unresolved conflict of interests!

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Hello,

I was told once, that Peregrine Falcons in England were persecuted in an attempt to protect carrier pigeons!!!!Not sure how this would have protected pigeons in France/Belgium,unless this persecution applied in these countries aswell.

Anthony.

I believe this is true, but during the Second World War rather than the First. Oops - I must be off topic!

Gwyn

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