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Monday, September 6, 2021

Day 25, Pigeon V.

The British War office dispensed with messenger pigeons in 1907, although pigeons were still trained and raced by private hands throughout the United Kingdom. In 1927, Lieutenant Colonel Alfred H. Osman, O.B.E., published an article titled ‘Pigeons in the Great War’ in the Royal United Services Institution Journal (Vl. 27), it began: “Prior to the Great War both the [British] Army and Navy had made experiments in the use of pigeons and discarded them owing to unfavourable reports. The war showed that the decision was a mistake; but it proved also that to obtain successful results with these birds as messengers the service must be in the hands of experienced technical breeders and the lofts must be in charge of men possessing long experience of breeding, training and handling pigeons. Without this practical knowledge the birds will never give good results.” Osman was responsible for the creation of the Voluntary Pigeon War Committee (VPWC) which saw the service of 15 pigeons given to the British Intelligence Service in May 1915 from the French Army grow to a network of 100,000 pigeons used throughout the war. In 1898 Osman abandoned his career as a lawyer’s clerk and established and became the first editor of ‘The Racing Pigeon’, a weekly magazine still in publication today. Osman used his contacts in the pigeon breeding world to persuade them to donate birds for the British cause. By the end of 1914 he and a small team of volunteers had begun training the pigeons for operational service and by the beginning of 1915 had set up a series of lofts along the east coast and supplied trained pigeons to the trawlers and seaplanes that patrolled the North Sea. Throughout the war it’s estimated that 98% of messages sent via pigeons were delivered safely despite the dangers of shellfire, rifle and machine-gun fire, and it was found that pigeons were conveniently immune to tear gas making them effective forms of communication in the trenches. By the end of the war the VPWC had employed 350 pigeon handlers. In WWII the British armed forces used 250,000 pigeons and continued to pay civilian pigeon fanciers to maintain 100 birds for their use up until 1950.