Mystery Pigeon’s War Secret

The remains of a World War Two carrier pigeon which was lost in action 70 years ago while delivering a top secret message over enemy lines has been found in a chimney in Bletchingley, Surrey.

The skeleton of the bird has a small red cylinder attached to its foot which contains a mysterious cigarette paper sized coded message. The message is deemed so sensitive, that Codebreakers at GCHQ in Cheltenham are now frantically trying to decipher it.

The remains of the war veteran bird were discovered by David Martin as he ripped out a fireplace while renovating his home. The Royal Pigeon Racing Association says the mysterious bird probably either got lost, disorientated in bad weather, or was simply exhausted after its trip across the Channel.

Historians believe the bird was almost certainly dispatched from Nazi-occupied France on June 6 1944, during the D-Day Invasions. Because of Churchill’s radio blackout, homing pigeons were taken on the D-Day invasion and released by Allied Forces to inform military Generals back on English shores how the operation was going.

Unlike other carrier pigeon messages, however, Mr Martin’s is written entirely in code. World War Two experts suspect the bird discovered by Mr Martin was destined for the top secret Bletchley Park – which is just 80 miles from Mr Martin’s home. During the war, Codebreakers worked there round the clock in top secret – deciphering Nazi codes including Enigma. It was also home to a classified MI6 pigeon loft, manned by trainer Charles Skevington.

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 in1940 and we know it’s an Allied Forces pigeon because of the red capsule it was carrying – but that’s all we know.

“We suspect it was flying back to Monty’s HQ or Bletchley Park from Nazi occupied Normandy during the invasion. I can only presume it became exhausted and attempted to rest on an open chimney – where it valiantly perished.”
Using World War Two log books, Colin is now helping GCHQ to crack the code. The message was sent to XO2 at 16:45 and contained 27 codes, each made up of five letters or numbers. The destination X02 is believed to be Bomber Command, while the sender’s signature at the bottom of the message reads Serjeant W Stot.

Mr Martin, the man who found the historic pigeon, said: “It’s a real mystery and I cannot wait for the secret message to be decoded. Who knows; maybe it’ll tell us something really shocking like, God forbid, Churchill was actually working undercover for the Nazis!”

Bletchingley is just five miles from Field Marshal Montgomery’s secret Reigate HQ, where Operation Overlord, the name given to the D-Day landings, was hatched.

Pigeon enthusiasts (commonly known as ‘fanciers’) are now calling for Mr Martin’s mysterious military bird to be posthumously decorated with the Dickin Medal – the highest possible decoration for valour given to animals.  

More than 60 animals have received the accolade through the years, including 18 dogs, three horses and one cat. But pigeons rule the medal roost, with 32 being awarded to feathered heroes between 1943 and 1949. An American pigeon, called GI Joe, saved more than 1,000 lives when it got a message through to a village about to be bombed that it had actually been recaptured by British forces. Another – Mary of Exeter – was used to send top secret messages and received 22 stitches after being injured in the course of her duties.
Homing pigeons were deemed so precious to the war effort they were given royal protection. Anyone found to ‘wound or molest’ a bird during World War Two faced up to six months in prison or a £100 fine. Birds of prey are predators of pigeons and during the war often unknowingly intercepted pigeons carrying top secret messages. To remedy the problem the Government introduced a special RAF squadron to cull falcons and hawks.

Pigeons have been used as military messengers throughout history. They can reach speeds of 80mph, cover distances of 700 miles and are considered to be the animal kingdom’s Top Gun natural navigators. Many of the pedigree pigeons kept in Her Majesty’s Royal Loft today are descendants of the birds which so bravely served their country in World War Two.

Secret Agent Commander Wilfred “Biffy” Dunderdale coincidently lived near David Martin after the war. Biffy enjoyed fast cars, attractive women and is said to be the real-life inspiration for his friend Ian Fleming’s fictional spy James Bond. A specialist in counter-espionage, Biffy was the Allied Force’s principal link to the Deuxieme Bureau – also known as the French Resistance.

After the war Biffy, who gained the nickname thanks to a fierce right hook, moved to Bletchingley, Surrey. Because of his past, he was given police protection. Mr Martin lives only doors away and managed to show him the mysterious pigeon code before he passed away. Mr Martin recalls: “When I showed him the bird and code the blood drained from his face and he advised us to back off. “He said nothing would ever be published.”

Image Source: Bletchley Park

Jonny Mardling

Jonny Mardling

Jonny Mardling is the Editor of The History Herald. He has a keen interest in Second World War and Cold War history, and with a great grandfather who was killed during the Battle of the Somme, he also has a fascination with First World War history.

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