Secret Code Found on Dead Pigeon

Wife of the First Lord of the Admiralty thanks a War Pigeon – 1944

BBC News reports on 23 November 2012 that a dead pigeon with a secret code attached to its leg has been found in a chimney in Surrey. A red canister was found fastened to the WW2 carrier pigeon and inside the container was a piece of paper containing the code. The cipher was sent off to the intelligence service GCHQ but they have been unable to make sense of what the 27 blocks of code mean and so they have asked the public for help.

Sadly Pathé are unable to help on that front. However, we thought it a good opportunity to pay tribute to these army carrier pigeons who were extensively used as military messengers during WW1 and WW2.  Over 100,000 pigeons served Britain in WWI and over 250,000 served the UK in WW2. These winged warriors were used for their homing ability, rapidity and elevation to carry important information from behind enemy lines.

WW1 Army Pigeon

The most heroic pigeon during WW1 was Cher Ami. Despite being shot through the breast, Cher Ami still managed to deliver a message in his capsule and in turn saved 200 US soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division’s “Lost Battalion”.

GI Joe was an American hatched pigeon who carried a message through an artillery bombardment in Italy during the Second World War and consequently saved the inhabitants of Calvi Vecchia in Italy and the units of the 56th London division. The village was due to be bombarded by the Allied forces but the message that the British had captured the village, delivered by G.I. Joe, arrived just in time to avoid the bombing. G.I Joe’s tenacity, strength and bravery saved over a thousand lives. He was awarded the Dickin Medal, the Victoria Cross of the feathered world, in 1946. 

G.I. Joe with his Dickin Medal

34 pigeons were decorated with the Dickin Medal and we have a few of the awards ceremonies within the archive. Watch Paddy and Gustav receive their Dickin Medal. Paddy was an Irish carrier pigeon and received the award having flown 230 miles across the English Channel in 4hrs55mins. He was the fastest pigeon to arrive back in England with news of the D-Day victory.

Paddy and Gustav with their Dickin medals – 1944

Watch Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) and her sister Princess Margaret despatch a homing pigeon. 

Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret with a homing pigeon – 1943
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