As we pause to reflect, and commemorate Anzac Day 2024, we remember the sacrifice of the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who landed at Gallipoli in World War one – and the many other Australian servicemen and women who have fought in the myriad of conflicts since that great “War to End All Wars”

Many lost their lives – while others were badly injured …. or came home suffering – often silently – from the worst of war experiences.

We enjoy our freedom today because of them!

Many pigeon flyers were among those who fought in the First and Second World Wars, Korea and Vietnam.

The Australian War Memorial recognizes all those servicemen and women – but it also has a special place for the life-saving role played by the 1st Australian Signal Corp

It was a tough job for the messenger pigeons and man didn’t make it home

They were a vital means of communication and surveillance

Mobile or small fixed lofts were used in both Wold Wars to house the feathered messengers that subsequently used their inert homing ability to cross active battlefields and dodge gunfire to get messages back to headquarters.

Once the birds were used to their mobile loft in a given position – it could be moved forward or to the rear …. with the birds then carrying out various missions.

As a result of their work artillery was directed at enemy soldiers, crew from downed planes of damaged ships were rescued and many lives were saved

This message (above) sent by pigeon on July 16 1918 reads “On Water Attacked by Hun Seaplane Send Help at Once E.S” These message were written on rice paper to keep them light, and placed in a small tube the birds leg

Bigger messages and small maps were placed in a pouch on a bird’s back.

This Blue Chequer Cock was allotted to the 1 Australian Pigeon Corps, attached to US Forces, on Manus Island, in the Admiralty Islands.

While operating in the Drabito area on the 5th of April 1944 this pigeon was used to carry information to HQ Brewer Task Force … Despite being fired on, It flew 25 to 30 miles in 47 minutes …. and led to a successful bombing of Japanese troops.

The bird was awarded the Dickin Medal – the equivilent of the Victoria Cross for animals

Two pigeons were released on each occasion with identical messages in case one didn’t make it through

According to the Australian War Museum …

“The Birds were handled and trained according to a strict routine. For example, they were only fed once per day (half an hour before sunset) and were not fed for atleast 24 hours after leaving the loft. Pigeons were not released less than half an hour before sunset, or before sunrise or in fog as this would reduce their ability to navigate.

Female and male birds were not released together, and if a message was extremely secret it would be written in code in case the bird was killed or captured”

In England during World War two the Royal Lofts, and other flyers secretly sent birds to The Pigeon Corps … and they homed with their vital messages

Top – The Duke of Normandy – the first birds to return to England with news from British Paratroopers invading Normandy on D day. Liberated at 6am – after six days in the basket – it flew through bad weather. channel gales, and heavy rain for 26 hours and 50 minutes

Centre – William of Orange – Flew from Airborne Troops at Amhem with with a vital message at 60 miles and hour over 265 miles into England . He was awarded the Dickens Medal.

Bottom – Mercury – Awarded R. Signals Memento for most outstanding single performance om service, a solo flight from Denmark, 480 miles. She then went on to take 3rd place in the 1945 Berlin to England Race 570 miles.

Top – TTT1 – carried a 5 thousand word report, 12 maps and other plans from Brussels … leaving at 5.15 am and arriving in Ipswich at 3.30 the same day.

Centre – Searchlight pied – This very intelligent bird oerformed valuable war service and was trained to fly along the searchlight beams with a two ounce pack on his back

Bottom – Royal Blue. Awarded the Dicken Medal. Bred by King George VI Royal Blue had the distinction of being the first bird to return from a crashlanded plane in enemy territory On the 10th of October 1940 this bird was released in Holland at 7.20 am and covered the distance to Sandringham in 4 hours and 10 minutes.It was on ly 5 months at the time, and arrived bleeding from wounds on her breast.

Special Thanks to Jeff Howell and the Australian Racing Pigeon Journal, Pigeon Radio Australia, and the Australian War Museum for help with pictures or text in this article.