Mystery military pigeon’s war secret

THE remains of a World War II carrier pigeon which was lost in action 70 years ago while delivering a top secret message over enemy lines has been found in a chimney in Surrey.

The skeleton of the war veteran bird and the mysterious message it was carrying were discovered by David Martin when he opened a disused fireplace while renovating his home in Surrey.

Code breakers at Bletchley Park are now frantically trying to decipher the deceased bird’s historic message.

Colin Hill, a volunteer for the Royal Pigeon Racing Association and the curator of Bletchley Park’s permanent ‘Pigeons at War’ exhibition, said: “We have more than 30 messages from WWII carrier pigeons in our exhibition, but not one is in code.

“The message Mr Martin found must be highly top secret.

“The aluminium ring found on the bird’s leg tells us it was born in 1940 and we know it’s an Allied Forces pigeon because of the red capsule it was carrying – but that’s all we know.”

Using WW11 log books; Colin is now working with a crack team to decode the pigeon’s cigarette paper sized message.

Pigeons have been used as military messengers throughout history. They can reach speeds of 80mph, distances of 700 miles and are considered to be the animal kingdom’s Top Gun natural navigators.

Used in both world wars; the RAF trained a squadron of 250,000 pigeons in World War II. This included some of the King George VI’s birds from the royal pigeon loft on the Sandringham Estate.

Often they were dropped into Nazi occupied Europe from military planes using mini parachutes. They were then picked up on the ground by resistance groups who would insert top secret messages into tiny capsules on the birds’ legs. The pigeons would then be re-released, before flying back to their lofts in the UK using their inbuilt compasses.

Mr Martin’s home in Surrey is close to the hotel in Reigate where General Montgomery secretly planned the D-Day invasion and kept military pigeon lofts.

Homing pigeons were taken on the D-Day invasion and released by Allied Forces to inform military Generals back on English shores that the operation was going to plan.

Bletchley Park’s Colin Hill explained: “The bird found in the chimney may well have been flying back to Monty’s HQ or Bletchley Park from Nazi occupied Normandy during the invasion.

“I can only presume it became exhausted and attempted to rest on an open chimney – where it valiantly perished.”

Mr Martin, the man who found the historic pigeon, added: “It’s a real mystery and I cannot wait for the secret message to be decoded.

“Who knows; maybe it’ll tell us something really shocking like, god forbid, Churchill was actually working undercover for the Nazis!”

Pigeon enthusiasts (commonly known as ‘fanciers’) are now calling for Mr Martin’s mysterious military bird to be posthumously decorated with the Dickin Medal – the highest possible decoration for valour given to animals.

More than 60 animals have received the accolade through the years, including 18 dogs, three horses and one cat. But pigeons rule the medal roost, with 32 being awarded to feathered heroes between 1943 and 1949.

An American pigeon, called GI Joe, saved more than 1,000 lives when it got a message through to a village about to be bombed that it had actually been recaptured by British forces. Another – Mary of Exeter – was used to send top secret messages and received 22 stitches after being injured in the course of her duties.

Homing pigeons were deemed so precious to the war effort they were give royal protection. Anyone found to ‘wound or molest” a bird during WWII faced up to six months in prison or a £100 fine.

Birds of prey are predators of pigeons and during the war often unknowingly intercepted pigeons carrying top secret messages. To remedy the problem the Government introduced a special RAF squadron to cull falcons and hawks.

Today homing pigeons are used in the sport of pigeon racing. More than 40,000 people around the country race the birds. Even HRH The Queen, who is the Patron of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA), keeps racing pigeons – a tradition which dates back to 1886 when King Leopold II of the Belgians gave birds to the Royal Family as a gift.

Many of the pedigree pigeons kept in Her Majesty’s royal loft today are descendents of the birds which so bravely served their country in WWII.

Despite its royal patronage, the sport of pigeon racing has experienced a decline in popularity in recent years. Soaring peregrine falcon and sparrow hawk populations have contributed to its demise, with thousands of racing pigeons increasingly finding themselves on the menu as the predators stalk their lofts.

The threat posed by raptors such as falcons and hawks has led to UK pigeon fanciers campaigning for the protection of their birds through the national Raptor Alliance.