I’ve found three or four pigeon legs without a canister, but with an identity ring. I guess many detectorists have done the same – but the story I am about to relate is a little different …
David Hodgkinson has been metal detecting for about 20 years. Whilst using his Tesoro Stingray detector on Margate beach in Kent he found something he had never seen before. After a little research and discussion with others he realised that his find was really special – a canister of the sort carried by pigeons in the First World War. He knew that it was from that era because he had been told that Second World War canisters were red in colour and Bakelite in composition.
© Super pictures supplied by David Hodgkinson
I am often reminded – and feel just a little guilty – when chasing pigeons away from the bird feeders at the bottom of the garden, that some of their kind, almost a quarter of a million birds, probably played a part in both World Wars. Their vital role was to carry messages, a task at which they were very reliable with an astonishing success rate of about 95%.
Man-made communications systems in 1914 were poor. During World War I, messages were sometimes transmitted by wire (telegraph or field phone), but two-way radio communications had not yet become available.
At times like this when a unit was ordered to attack over broad and difficult terrain – where it was impossible to string the wire necessary for communications – a field commander often carried with him several carrier pigeons or had a portable pigeon coop like the one shown below.
The pigeon’s great strength was not only its extraordinary homing instinct, but also the speed at which it flew. The only successful barrier in the way was the bird of prey-and even they were culled along the coasts of Britain to enable the birds to fly unhindered.
This story is about one of the 5% that failed to get through with its message about 100 years ago and is unusual because the canister attached to the leg of the carrier pigeon is rarely found by detectorists.
Remarkably, the wax seal and message enclosed within the carrier was still intact. David hopes that the message will soon be removed and interpreted if necessary as it is probably in code.”The contents may have been something of great importance,” mused David.
At the first time of writing, the canister was in the safe hands of the Thanet Tunnel and Cave Club and they were wondering how to proceed with the rare find. Frank, a spokesman from the club, tells me that it is still intact. The Imperial War Museum turned down their request for a forensic opening. Pity. I have been unable to contact David for a comment.
The short video (under 5 minutes) is simple in concept and designed primarily for children, but worth watching nevertheless.
Cher Ami – (in English, ‘Dear Friend’). The PIGEON That SAVED Hundreds of LIVES 🕊️
I’m going of in a tangent again, but I think this is interesting. The pigeon named Cher Ami lost *his foot and one eye, but *his message got through, saving a large group of American infantrymen. This has been well documented and I don’t intend to reinvent the wheel. Read more HERE HERE and HERE – check for yourself if you need more information.
Cher Ami is on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History to preserve his memory. Since then his story has lived on in the hearts and minds of Americans across the decades, and his bravery will never be forgotten.
* The Last Word
I couldn’t understand why some accounts referred to Cher Ami as HE and other commentators as HER until I read an explanation. I am unable to find the quote now, but this is what I remember:
During the pigeon’s war service (it) was always thought to be a MALE. It was only when sent to the taxidermist for stuffing that the truth was revealed. When mounting her the taxidermist reported that SHE was definitely a FEMALE. 🙂
Now, why should I remember that? Perhaps it tells you more about me and my warped mind than anything else.