Lesser known facts
Paddy the Pigeon tells the story of Paddy, a pigeon that won a Dickin Medal for his part in the World War 2 Normandy Landings of June 1944. Based on a true story.
Thousands of carrier pigeons accompanied the troops to Normandy on D-day and brought back essential details to Allied Headquarters in a capsule tied to their legs. A special loft was erected at the secret code deciphering centre at Bletchley Park. Considered vermin by many, these pigeons, were first used as early as the year 1150 AD and played an important part in both world wars. News of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo first came by pigeon post. Many of these birds were specially bred in Belgium prior to 1939. Often used as a distress signal from downed aircraft, a pigeon named ‘Winkie’ escaped from a bomber after coming down in the English Channel in 1943. It flew back 120 miles to its base at RAF Leuchers in Scotland in time for rescue boats to reach and save the crew of the stricken bomber. Winkie was awarded the Dickin Medal (the animal version of the Victoria Cross) the first pigeon to be awarded with the medallion. Many of these pigeons were dropped by specially designed parachutes to be picked up by members of the French resistance. They were soon on their way back to Britain with Important information. At this time the Germans were training Falcons to intercept the pigeons while in flight and many were killed this way. In all, thirty-two animal VCs were awarded to pigeons during WWII. Founded by Maria Dickin in 1943, the Dickin Medal was awarded to any animal, bird or dog, displaying conspicuous gallantry during war. Other Pigeons so awarded were, to use their code names, William of Orange, the hero of Arnhem, Mary of Exeter, Duke of Normandy and Paddy, to name but a few. Managed by the elite division MI-14, the office in charge of Pigeon operations, these pigeons were responsible for the saving of thousands of military lives.
The city of Colvi in Italy was occupied by British troops on October 18, 1943, at 10am, well ahead of schedule. The US Air Force was to bomb the city an hour later to help the British entry. Attempts by radio to cancel the raid failed. A pigeon, GI Joe, borrowed from the Americans at the nearby airfield to accompany the troops, was released with the important message to cancel the raid, tied to it’s leg. It arrived just as the bombers were about to take off. It is estimated that around a thousand British soldiers could have died if the raid had proceeded. GI Joe was the only bird or animal in America to receive the Dickin Medal. It died on June 3, 1961, aged 18, and can be seen today, mounted, in the Historical Centre at Fort Monmonth, New Jersey.