THE story of a carrier pigeon which delivered a vital message during the First World War despite being mortally wounded by a German sniper has come to light after almost a century.
Papers unearthed during a house clearance reveal the final moments of the bird, later named ‘the VC Pigeon’.
The bird was stuffed and donated to the Royal Signals Museum in Blandford after the war, where it has since been on display in a glass case.
Captain James Lloyd, a propagandist for little-known British intelligence service Mi7b during the war, wrote an account of the pigeon’s final moments.
According to the captain’s report, the bird had been given an important message to take nine miles back to Divisional Headquarters from the frontline at the Battle of Passchendaele in October 1917.
The flight should have taken no more than 25 minutes. However, the carrier, identified then as ‘Pigeon 2709’, took 21 hours to complete the mission.
Upon its arrival at the HQ pigeon loft, staff realised the bird had been shot during its flight.
The creature stayed alive long enough to deliver the message before succumbing to his wounds.
In 2015, Cpt Lloyd’s great nephew Jeremy Arter discovered the hand-written account, along with 150 classified documents, in an old trunk at his home in Wales.
The report of the pigeon reads: “Pigeon No 2709. IX Corps. Died of wounds received in action 4th October 1917.
“In the action which was fought in the region of the Menin Road, this bird was despatched with a message from the frontline to Divisional Headquarters at 1.30pm.
“This bird was hit by a bullet which broke one of its legs.
“In spite of wounds and being out in the wet all night the bird struggled home to its loft.
“When the man came to see what it had brought, they found the pigeon lying on the floor of the loft bleeding to death, with its legs shot away and the message holder embedded in its body.
“It died shortly afterwards.
“That bird’s courage and devotion earned for it the name of ‘the VC Pigeon’.
Adam Forty, of the Royal Signals Museum, said: “Almost 100 years later documents from the secretive propaganda branch of Mi7b came to light after being discovered in a Welsh attic by Jeremy Arter.
“These papers had thought to have been destroyed but Mr Arter’s great uncle, Captain James Lloyd, had kept copies of many poignant documents.
“Among these papers was the story of ‘Britain’s winged soldiers’.
“In this particular story Pigeon 2709 is mentioned having earned the respect and admiration of the loftsmen at the frontline who gave him the honorary title ‘VC Pigeon’.
“We have been aware of the bravery of this pigeon for many years but have relied on anecdotal evidence.
“Now we have solid documental evidence.”
He added: “The VC Pigeon is proudly on display at the Royal Signals Museum.
“The schoolchildren love him.”
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