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World Wars: Pigeons in Battle Animal VC Winners.
The Dicken Medal The Animals Victoria Cross.
In 1943 the British charity, 'People's Dispensary for Sick Animals' instigated a Medal to be awarded to animals who's actions deserved recognition. At the time the charity was led by Maria Dicken it was through her efforts that the Medal has been accepted as the animals Victoria Cross, which is the highest British award for action under fire.
It is estimated that 200,000 or more pigeons were used by the allies over the two world wars. The US army had a training centre at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. This was known as the Army Pigeon Breeding and Training Centre. It was established 1917 and was disbanded in 1957. It was known that Pigeons could average 60mph in flight and could fly hundreds of miles at a time. They are credited to have saved many thousands of lives over the two world wars.
During World War One the British operated the Carrier Pigeon Service. The birds were used for carrying messages and espionage duties. Pigeons were used on all fronts, with particular success at the Battle of the Somme and the battle at Verdun. It is estimated that 90/95% of all messages were delivered.
During world war one the US Army Signals Corp operated approximately 600 pigeons. One in particular was to become famous, we must not forget here that all these birds flew hazardous duties when required, but Cher Ami did something outstanding. Having already undertaken 12 message deliveries. He was given a message by Major Whittlesey who was commanding the''Lost Battalion'' of the 77th Infantry Division. It was October 1918 when 194 American soldiers were cut off and trapped by German forces. There were no working radio's amongst them.There only hope was to release a pigeon. Their message and co-ordinates were placed into the usual small capsule and attached to the leg of Cher Ami. As the major released him to the sky, everyman knew that his life depended upon the Cher Ami, it was now or never.
As if he was aware of the the situation Cher Ami did his very best that day, he flew 25 miles over German Lines to reach the Americans Headquarters. During the flight he was shot through the chest and eye and most of one leg was shot off, but he carried on and delivered his message. The Americans launched an attack on the German positions and after several hours of combat, they broke through to the 194 trapped soldiers. Cher Ami lived on and was awarded the ''Croix de Guerre'' with Palm by the French for his heroic efforts between the forts of Verdun. After his wounds healed ''Cher Ami'' was taken to America, where he died in 1919.
It was a common practice during World War II for R.A.F. Bombers to carry Pigeons, if they ditched in the sea or crash landed they had a possible means of rescue. In Februaury 1942 a damaged Beaufort Bomber had to ditch in the sea. It had been on a mission over Norway and fired on by German Gunners.
The crew managed to get their Pigeon out of the aircraft with them, they were unable to radio an accurate position to base but were able to release 'Winkie'. Their only hope was that she could make it to her Loft in Broughty Ferry, a small town near to Dundee in Scotland, from there their base would be alerted. She made it, her owner found her exhausted in the loft. She had flown for 120 miles without rest. Officers at the base knew where the plane was approximately.By estimating Winkie's speed at 60 mph. then taking in wind speed and direction they launched a rescue and the men were picked up within 30 minutes.
Pigeons were used by all sides during the two wars. The Australian Army had great success in the Pacific Conflict, and awarded two of their Pigeons with the Dicken Medal. Thousands of birds lived and died unrecorded in battle, but many lives were saved by these generally unsung combatants - The Dicken Medal is made of Bronze and reads: 'For Gallantry We Also Serve
Pigeon war heroes.
© 2012 Graham Lee