Why Pigeons Are Seriously Underrated – The Messenger Bird Blog Tour

Today I have a fabulous post from Ruth Eastham, author of The Messenger Bird (amongst many other fab books) as part of The Messenger Bird blog tour. If you hadn’t guessed from the title Ruth is going to be telling us why pigeons are seriously underrated!

Over to Ruth…

Why Pigeons Are Seriously Underrated

War Pigeon

Okay, so it may not have quite the same ring as the Michael Morpurgo epic, War Horse, but there’s a lot more to pigeons than strutting about pecking the pavements, I’ll have you know.

Pigeon brain, pigeon pie, pigeon poo… they’re not exactly positive images of these feathered creatures. To some people, pigeons are little more than nasty winged things that mess up our public statues. If you happen to be one of those people, my mission (should I choose to accept it) is to persuade you different.

Valiant, a Disney film (Ewan McGregor does the voice)

It was while I was visiting Bletchley Park that I first found out the debt we owe to pigeons.

During the Second World War, Bletchley Park was the top-secret headquarters where enemy messages were cracked. It was here where I saw my first pigeon parachute, and learnt how carrier pigeons had the role of delivering vital messages from behind enemy lines.

A pigeon parachute at Bletchley Park.
The landing could be very bumpy.
Many pigeons perished, unfound and unable to escape.

Maybe 16,000 pigeons were parachuted into France. The idea was that special agents over there or members of the Resistance could attach important messages to them (in special containers either on the legs or looped over its back) and the pigeons would fly back to Britain with these messages.

All this research even inspired the title for my second book, The Messenger Bird (‘pigeon’ in a book title was thought to be a problem. *Sighs*. Such is the bad name these little fellows have.)

Image from a display board at Bletchley Park

Here are some World War II pigeon facts that will leave you stunned. Go on, admit it!

  • Nearly a quarter of a million carrier pigeons were used by Britain.
  • There was only a 1 in 8 chance a pigeon would survive.
  • The Nazis used hawks along the French coast to catch pigeons going across the English Channel.

Image from a display board at Bletchley Park

And:

  • 32 homing pigeons have been awarded the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

Take Winkie.

She was a pigeon who flew 120 miles in terrible weather with the coordinates of a plane that had crashed into the bitterly cold North Sea, saving the lives of the crew.

If you messed with pigeons back in 1940, you’d be in big trouble:

Poster on display at Bletchley Park.
(£100 was a heck of a lot of money in those days)

But 100 quid was nothing. If you were caught releasing, or even just having a messenger pigeon on the other side of the Channel, the penalties were much, much more severe…

Poster on display at Bletchley Park.

So let’s hear it for our wartime unsung heroes!
Yes, they do mess up statues. And their heads might bob up and down very annoyingly when they walk, but they can’t help that!

Image from Microsoft ClipArt

And if you STILL think they’re nothing more than pesky little critters, spare a thought…for White Vision, Dinky, Beach Comber, Gustav, Paddy, Kenley Lass, Navy Blue, Flying Dutchman, Commando, William of Orange, Billy, Broad Arrow…

… And for the thousands of other homing pigeons who never made it home.

And for those of you collecting letters for Ruth’s mystery message competition: www.rutheastham.com/my-book-launch-blog-tour/

MYSTERY LETTER NUMBER 8 = C

Further Information

From Amazon
Nathan’s father has been arrested. He works for the Ministry of Defence and is accused of leaking top secret information. But as he is dragged into a police car, he gives Nathan a message. It leads to a riddle, but it’s not from Dad. It’s from an ex-Bletchley Park employee, Lily Kenley, and was written in 1940. Nathan begins to follow the clues left behind by Lily. But how can this war-time story link to his father’s fate? Hope for Dad’s appeal is fading fast. He must solve the puzzle. Time is running out.

A big thank you to Ruth for writing this post, you can find out more about Ruth on the following websites:

Ruth’s website: www.rutheastham.com

Ruth’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ruth-Eastham-Writer/138938346156922
Follow Ruth on Twitter: @RuthEastham1

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