How about a spot of light relief from from the SDSR, leaks, slagging off the other services and upsetting other forums?
In the Second World War the Army’s Pigeon Service was run by Loftsmen of the Royal Signals (a trade that continued until 1946). The birds were used for many reasons but usually in an emergency such as by agents behind enemy lines or by ditched RAF aircrew. The birds were often able to avoid enemy fire and fly through the fog of war at great speed. They were specially trained for this task.
The Battle of Arnhem is renowned for its communications failures. But this was in no way due to Pigeon NS 15125 William of Orange whose loyalty and endeavour under extreme conditions cannot be faulted. He was released from Arnhem, with a message fixed to his leg, at 1030 hours on 19th September 1944 and arrived at his loft in England at 1455 hours having flown over 250 miles. It was one of few messages to make its way back to the UK. For his efforts he was awarded the Dicken Medal; the animals’ Victoria Cross.
The medal was instituted in 1943 as the highest award of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals and named after its founder Mrs ME Dicken MBE. It was only awarded under conditions of conflict and William was the 21st recipient. The medal is inscribed PDSA, For Gallantry, We also serve and engraved on the reverse with the details of the event.
William was bred by Sir William Proctor Smith of Cheshire and trained by the Army Pigeon Service of the Royal Signals. After the war he bought him out of service for £185 and ten years later reported that, ‘Although now retired, he is the grandfather of many outstanding racing pigeons’. The medal was presented to the Royal Signals Museum in 1965 by Lady Smith.
Royal Signals Museum
For an update on the Dicken medal, have a look here
From the outset there had been a number of serious failures in communications. Divisional and brigade command wireless links failed. There was no direct communication to UK or Corps HQ and air support communications were non-existent. There are many reasons given for these breakdowns. It must be remembered that the whole plan was developed very quickly; that complicated tactical groupings demanded complicated networks and time was not available for training or rehearsal. Both US and British procedures and ciphers had to be used and all the material for the Signal Instruction had to be disseminated and absorbed very quickly. Frequency selection was poor and frequencies were not monitored beforehand. The Division was more dispersed than usual and on this occasion, in the suburbs of a major town. In spite of these awesome setbacks, the men of 1st Airborne Divisional Signals performed their duty magnificently.
It was during this operation that William of Orange, a cock pigeon, earned the Dickin Medal, the animal’s VC. 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment decided to send their pigeon when they were unable to get through on their wireless from the bridge. The bird was released at 1030 hours on 19 September from Arnhem and was back in his loft in London at 1455 hours. He had flown 260 miles of which 135 miles were over open sea in 4 hours 25 minutes at an average speed of 61 mph. Lieutenant Colonel Stephenson recalls that William of Orange actually had to be persuaded to take off with a burst from a sten gun! Pigeons were issued to the units in the Division before an operation by the Divisional Signals Pigeon Officer at the airfield transit camps. Scale of issue varied depending on the operation but a normal issue might be 36 to Divisional HQ, 6 to Brigade HQ, 2 to Battalion HQ and 12 to the Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment.
216 Parachute Signals Squadron
I hope that the SDSR considers the vital contribution that combat pigeons can make in modern operations, after all, they cost nowt but bird seed!
Even the RAF may be able to use them instead of buying expensive RPAS and recce pods!