Bletchley Park Pigeon

Everyone did something for the war effort during World War 2 – every man, woman, child, carrier pigeon….

Sometimes its easy to forget that our friends in the animal kingdom had a part to play and a remarkable story that hit the news today illustrates that very fact. That story is about a coded message discovered in a red cylinder attached to the remains of a World War 2 carrier pigeon.

The pigeon, found in a chimney in Bletchingley, Surrey, kept its last secret for over 70 years until Mr David Martin ripped out the fireplace in his house as part of a renovation project.


The pigeon’s skeleton and the coded message it was carrying

 

During World War 2 Bletchley Park was home to a large covert operation where code breakers frantically worked to decipher messages on enemy cipher machines, such as the Enigma. It was also home to a classified pigeon loft, part of  the National Pigeon Service and is the place that experts believe the pigeon was returning to when it either lost its way or was too fatigued to continue.

A fascinating article in www.aboutmyarea.co.uk for the Milton Keynes area states:

The crack team of birds were a secret wing of the National Pigeon Service – which had a squadron of 250,000 birds during World War Two. This included some of the King George VI’s birds from the Royal Pigeon Loft on the Sandringham Estate. The military pigeons were dropped behind enemy lines from bombers, where upon resistance fighters picked them up, before releasing them homeward bound with top secret messages.

Colin Hill, a volunteer for the Royal Pigeon Racing Association and the curator of Bletchley Park’s ‘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.

You can read the full article here.

All that is known about the message is that it was sent by Serjeant W. Stot. The use of the J in his signature indicates that he was an RAF airman rather than Army, who used ‘G’. We won’t know the meaning of the message until codebreakers at GCHQ are able to crack the message, which is made up of 27 blocks each containing 5 letters or numbers.

The article also reports that more than 60 animals received the Dicken Medal between 1943 and 1949, ‘including 18 dogs, three horses and one cat.’

Pigeoncameras

 

I find this totally apt for me as I embark on the first day of my children’s fiction début as part of the National Novel Writing Month, more commonly known as NaNoWriMo. This fun project challenges novelists to write 50,000 words during the month of November.

Run by the charity, Office of Letters and Light, the project aims to ‘bring free creative writing programs to nearly 350,000 kids and adults in approximately 100 countries, 2,000 classrooms, 200 libraries, and 500 NaNoWriMo regions every year’ by raising funds from donations.

It’s described as a ‘creative revolution’ and I decided to write a story for children as a fun way to pass on the facts about Bletchley Park to my young son. Here’s the short introduction I’ve added to the NaNoWriMo site.

The Captain’s Cat

 

War. Everyone is doing their bit for the war effort. Even the animals.

 

Me? I’m not eating the pigeons for the war effort. I can’t tell you how hard that is.

 

My name’s Cap, short for The Captain’s Cat, and I’m at Bletchley Park, milling between the legs of the humans who are here to crack top secret codes. Like the humans I’m here for a reason – I’m here to catch a traitor.

 

It’s September 1941 and I have formed a reluctant alliance with the pigeons (the ones I’m not eating). They’re not just ‘any’ pigeons but an elite group of spies. Together we are hunting the Controller of our target. It is imperative that we find the human who is feeding intelligence to the enemy. 

 

Let’s go, it’s time to get the job done and help get this war ended.

 

Then I’m going to eat a tasty pigeon….

 

See, totally apt.

I’m not sure if my story will end up being any good and I don’t think I’ll hit the 50,000 words because of my non-fiction writing commitments. It doesn’t matter as I’m in it for the fun and educational entertainment for my son, who is showing a great interest in code breaking, the Enigma machine and the Bombe. We can talk about the story and the facts during out next visit to Bletchley Park and I can show him the Bletchley Park pigeon exhibit in Hut 8.

My fictional story aims be as factual as possible and give a key elements of the Bletchley Park story that can easily be identified on a visit to Bletchley Park. In this way I find the Bletchley Park pigeon story amusing because it seems that I have unwittingly (well, the cat part anyway) chosen animal protagonists that have a strong basis in fact.

I am also amused by the remarkable naming coincidence – the pigeon was found in Bletchingly, Surrey and was reputedly on its way to Bletchley, Buckinghamshire.

There has to be some story mileage in that, surely…

 

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6 thoughts on “Bletchley Park Pigeon

    • Robert,

      Thank you for your comment. There are so many remarkable stories about WW2. I am intrigued about the cat who received the Dicken Medal. I’ve heard something about it being a ship’s cat. I wonder what it did to receive the highest honour that could be bestowed on an animal.

  1. Great article!
    Thank you!
    I did know about the pigeons but this is an interesting postscript – I hope they manage to decode the message soon – and that the pigeon gets his posthumous medal!

    You need to check the html to ensure that the photo of the pigeon bones appears …
    … might be something to do with the use of “align” ?