Pigeons played an inevitable role in both the World Wars and saved a lot of lives by being messengers and as intelligence gatherers. They were mostly transported on ships and released during an attack with the location and description of the ship that is sinking. Both the wars used pigeons extensively to carry messages across the military troop’s camp to the war front. Once the pigeons, arrived their destination the wires were used to give indication or information to the soldiers and they would retrieve the message from the bird and telegraph it to the required destination. Sometimes even a personal messenger or wired phones were used too. These pigeons job nature was immensely dangerous as many at times, they would be spotted and shot down.
During World War I, a homing pigeon named Cher Ami had carried a very important message which is said to save over 200 people in spite of sustaining injuries and even losing his eye sight. Cher Ami was a registered carrier pigeon, which was owned and employed by the U.S Army Corps in France. He is often believed to have delivered around twelve vital messages and was honoured the French Croix de Guerre.
During World War II, Pigeon lovers and owners from in and around Britain handed over their pigeons to the Army to act as messengers .It is estimated that around 250000 birds were employed by the army, Civil Defence services ( fire service, Police, Home guard) and the RAF. The widely popular racing of pigeons were cancelled and strict control measures were taken to ensure all trained pigeons could reach their homes safely , so that they could be used in the War.
GI Joe, an American homing pigeon delivered information regarding a scheduled attack on an Italian village which led to taking immediate measures and thereby saving thousands. He carried the message in a swift pace before the onset of the bomb. GI Joe was honoured for his courage and in time action by awarding the Dicking Medal for gallantry bestowed by the Lord Mayor of London as his action had saved an entire village.
The Dickin Medal is an honor bestowed upon animals who displays prominent devotion and gallantry while fulfilling their responsibilities or duty. This popular award was introduced by the founding member of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals – Mrs Maria Dickin. This is also the only award which was restricted to the animal Kingdom. The statics’ indicate that between the years of 1943-1949, the medal was awarded to around 54 animals who has displayed chivalry and has served the mankind by an act of enormous gallantry and devotion. The recipients included one cat, three horses, 18 dogs and 32 pigeons.
The most prominent pigeon who received the award was ‘White Vision’, for carrying and delivering an important message under extremely difficult scenario and the bird also helped in rescuing an aircraft in 1943, October as a part of RAF mission. White vision is estimated to have flown across heavy seas (60 miles) fighting against winds at 25 miles/hour.Some of the Dickin medal winners other than White Vision:Winkie: He was bred in Whitburn by AR Colley and was bestowed the award for delivering an important information under extremely difficult conditions which helped in rescuing an aircrew.
Another pigeon, George (Tyke) belonged to Middle East Pigeon Service received the award for being a messenger to RAF and rescuing an aircrew as a part of service.The wars employed pigeons to carry news or messages across the military troop’s camp to the war front. Once the pigeons, arrived their destination the wires were used to give indication or information to the soldiers and they would retrieve the message from the bird and telegraph it to the required destination. Sometimes even a personal messenger or wired phones were used too. These pigeons job nature was immensely dangerous as many at times, they would be spotted and shot down.
Read also: The Pigeons of the Trafalgar square.
Pigeons were considered as the best and reliable mode of communication during the First World War. It is estimated that around 100,000 pigeons were employed in the war as messengers with a 95% success rate. Since there was no advancement in technology nor communication and there was absolutely no reliable mode of communication. Animals were used as a trial, and then later pigeons and dogs (both extremely loyal pets) were employed for this purpose. Pigeons were also extremely common then. During the battle of the Marne (1914), the French extensively employed these bird messengers in the army and took them along.
Once the battle began, there was a lot of disorientation and confusion among the Army and then pigeons were released with clear messages tied to them. This worked out to be an effective strategy and also gave the army clarity in their actions. However, an astonishing fact is how these birds reach perfectly back to their headquarters even when (most of the times) the Army would mostly relocate their boot camp.
These pigeons were renowned for their capabilities for returning home or to their breeders. The indomitable strength of a pigeon was not just this characteristic but also the furious pace at which it can fly, this almost made it difficult for the enemy lines to attack them or even spot them in the sky. However the enemies could still bring them down by counter attacking them with their natural predator, like a falcon.
These birds have a credit of saving over thousands of lives and also of mobilizing many battles and movements through the War. Their services has been accredited by the nation by honouring them with awards and other medals. The Royal Pigeon Racing Association had an exhibition with all the details and distinct achievements of these extraordinary contributors in its annual exhibition.