On this Anzac Day I decided to focus on an animal that was once a hero and now is not… During World War I and World War II keeping up the breeding numbers of pigeons was vital. Sadly today pigeons are not as useful as they once were. In fact today they are a nuisance in many instances. Now we often get calls from customers needing us to provide bird proofing solutions to protect their solar panels from Pigeons and other birds. In some cases we have had to relocate pigeons that won’t be deterred from a property. But once upon a time Pigeons were a vital tool of warfare. Pigeons were used to carry messages during WWI and WWII when radio communications were not as reliable or even patchy in some areas.
Before radio communications were invented pigeons were used as a means of communicating vital information from the battlefield (which is constantly moving to the stationary headquarters.
During World War II England and it’s allies used pigeons for many purposes…Such as communicating with individuals behind enemy lines including the Belgium Spy, Josef Raskin. It is estimated that they used 250,000 homing pigeons during the four years of the war from 1944 – 48. The US Army Signal Corps used 600 pigeons in France alone.
The UK maintained their Pigeon Section or Air Ministry during World War II and for a while thereafter. A Commitete was formed to make decisions about the uses of pigeons in military contexts with the head of the committee, Lea Rayner reporting that pigeons could be trained to deliver small explosives or even bioweapons to precise targets. Thankfully neither of these suggestions was taken up by the committee. In 1948 the UK military decommissioned its Air Ministry Division, stating that pigeons were of no further use.
During the war, owners of messenger pigeons could draw a special allowance of corn and seed, for their birds. As soon as the war ended this was cancelled and anyone keeping pigeons had to draw on their own personal rationed corn and seed to also feed their pigeons. However, MI5, the UK security service was still concerned about enemy forces using pigeons for nefarious purposes. Up until 1950, MI5 ensured that 100 birds were maintained by a civilian pigeon fancier so that they were prepared with countermeasures if it should be necessary. The Swiss army didn’t disbanded their Pigeon section until 1996.
Pigeons have been a tool for human communication for a long time!
Carrier Pigeons have also been used as a communication tool outside of war with the 6th century king of Persia “Cyrus” using them to communicate quickly across various parts of his empire. Julius Caesar also used pigeons to communicate across the vast Roman Empire.
During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 – 71 the besieged residents of Paris used carrier pigeons to transmit messages outside the city. More than 1 million letters were transported in this way during the siege from as far away as London. The attacking Prussian Army countered by employing hawks to hunt the pigeons. The French military used balloons to transport the homing pigeons past the enemy lines. (As Pigeons can only fly home… so you need to take them to your secondary location and they will fly the message home.. hence the name “homing pigeons”)
In the lead up to World War I pigeons were considered to be a vital tool in military strategy and planning…. And so they were put to work. Many pigeons died during this time in service of their country of origin and today they are commemorated on a plaque at the war memorial. The plaque celebrates all of the animals that have served in some capacity during war. This includes horses, dogs, donkeys and camels as well as the humble pigeon. The highest possible decoration for valor, the Dickin Medal was awarded to 32 pigeons, including GI Joe a pigeon from the United States Army’s Pigeon Service and to Paddy the Irish Pigeon for service during World War II.
Pigeons were not only important to the Army and Airforce but also to the Navy. In fact they were considered an essential element of naval aviation communication and when the United States commissioned its first Aircraft Carrier the USS Langley in March 1922 the ship included a pigeon house on the stern of the ship.
Today Pigeons aren’t a tool of war but their contribution has not been forgotten.
In October this year the staff at the Australian War Memorial started to notice the disappearance of poppies from the tomb of the unknown soldier. On investigation it was discovered that a broody pigeon was building a nest against one of the stained glass windows of the War Memorial, with the poppys she was stealing. Out of respect for their service the caretakers at the memorial have left the Poppy Nest in place. https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/news/world/poppy-stealing-pigeon-offers-poignant-reminder-of-war-anniversary-373740/
A Pest to Suburbia
Now pigeons are considered a pest in suburbian environments causing damage to solar panels, security cameras and other property. If you would like us to quote on Bird Proofing your Solar Panels to ensure nesting Pigeons don’t make a mess of your panels give us a call on 1300 665 665.