Tuesday 16 April 2024

A to Z blogging challenge April 2024


Navy Blue wearing the Dickin Medal, March 1945
Image source

          This year my blog posts for the April 2024 Challenge will be about the recipients of the Dickin Medal, which you can read about here. They are in alphabetical, not chronological order, within the different letters.

All the recipients in the ‘N’ category are pigeons, so a little more general information about pigeons might be useful.

All homing pigeons are descended from Columba livia, the Rock Dove, and were selectively bred to produce the most efficient homing pigeons. In ancient times, the birds could only fly about 100 miles a day, but modern birds can accomplish 600 to 700 miles daily, without needing to stop for rest. They have a top speed of 60 mph, though exceptionally, some can fly faster and further, particularly with a following wind.

In Ancient Persia and Syria, in the 5th century BC (BCE) messenger pigeons were used in a sophisticated network for communication.

Around 3000 BCE, in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq and Iran) and Egypt, pigeons were being domesticated and trained to ‘home’. In 2900 BCE, in Ancient Egypt, ships used pigeons to announce their imminent arrival. In 2350 BCE, in what is now Iraq, the King ordained that each messenger should carry a homing pigeon. In the event of capture, the messenger would release the bird, which would fly back to the palace, thus indicating that another messenger should be dispatched. In ancient Egypt, doves were released as a way of announcing the reign of a new Pharaoh.

In Ancient Greece, pigeons carried the names of victorious Olympians back to their cities, in addition to relaying messages of battle victories.

 Doves were released at the Olympics, from 1920 as part of the opening ceremony. Prior to that, they had been used in the closing ceremony. However, in 1988, at the Seoul Games, many of the doves died in the cauldron flames and the practice was discontinued. The Tokyo Games in 2021 released 1,000 paper doves.

 Composed around 538 BCE, the Book of Genesis (8:vv 6-12) related how Noah dispatched a dove from the Ark to discover if the flood had abated. The dove came back and was sent out again. Eventually, it returned, carrying a twig from an olive tree, which proved to Noah that the waters had begun to subside.

Rome had dovecotes that housed more than 5000 pigeons and the Romans used messenger pigeons to support their troops. Julius Caesar dispatched pigeons to convey messages in his conquest of Gaul in 58 to 51 BCE.

During the 5th to 10th centuries of the Dark Ages, the Arabs established regular pigeon services. One caliph used pigeons to deliver cherries from Lebanon, each individual carrying one cherry in a silken bag. The price for a prize pair of messenger pigeons could reach one thousand gold pieces. Pigeon post was the most efficient and effective means of communication throughout the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages.

During the Crusades, Richard the Lionheart’s men intercepted a pigeon carrying a message that a Muslim relief army was advancing to support the battle against the Christians at Ptolemais. The pigeon was sent on its way with a false message that no help was forthcoming, so the town surrendered and the Christians were firmly embedded by the time the relief army arrived.

In the middle of the 19th century, pigeons were used by the Reuters news agency in the transmission of stock prices and news between Germany and Belgium. They were considered faster than rail and more reliable than telegraph. In succeeding years, pigeon post was developed by France, Prussia, Germany, Russia and Italy.

By the end of the 19th century, Canada and USA were using pigeons for civilian and military purposes, so that, when the First World War commenced, it was customary to rely on birds for communication.



Navy Blue

In March 1945, Navy Blue was awarded the DM. This bird was bred by the RAF and the citation read, ‘For delivering an important message from a Raiding Party on the West Coast of France, although injured, while serving with the RAF in June, 1944’.



This recipient was bred in Hereford by B. Powell, served with the National Pigeon Service (Special Section) and received the DM in October 1945, ‘For bringing important messages three times from enemy occupied country, viz: July 1942, August 1942 and April 1942, while serving with the Special Service from the Continent.’



                    NPS.42.NS.7524 with the Dickin Medal, October 1945

Image source

Bred in Barnsley by C. Dyson, and serving with the Special Section of the NPS, the citation for this pigeon read, ‘For bringing important messages three times from enemy-occupied country, viz: July 1942, May 1943 and July 1943, while serving with the Special Service from the continent.’ The award was made in October 1945.




Image source

Bred in Somerset by S.J. Bryant, this pigeon was honoured in August 1946, ‘For three outstanding flights from France while serving with the Special Section, Army Pigeon Service, 11th July 1941, 9th September 1941, and 29th November 1941.’ 



Awarded the DM in January, 1947, this bird was bred by T. Markham in Kendal. It made the flight from Normandy in under 24 hours in very poor weather conditions, after having been confined in a carrier for five days. The citation was, ‘For the fastest flight with message from 6th Airborne Div. Normandy, 7th June, 1944, while serving with the APS.’                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Pigeon Post

White wing, white wing,

Lily of the air,

What word dost bring,

On whose errand fare?


Red word, red word,

Snowy plumes abhor.

I, Christ’s own bird,

Do the work of war.

By Katherine Lee Bates, 1859-1929.

(She wrote the words for ‘America the Beautiful’.)      

  My thanks to ‘No Roots Sussex’, who gave me the link to 'The Warrior Birds Memorial in Beach House Park in Worthing' at https://www.southcoastview,co.uk/news/warrior-birds-memorial

At the beginning of the 1940s, Great Britain set up ‘Operation Columba’ in

 order to send messages by pigeon. At

 first, it relied on donated birds until a breeding programme was organised.

The birds faced many challenges – poor visibility, strong headwinds, atrocious weather, attacks by birds of prey, gunshot and shrapnel – and casualties were high.

All combatants were aware of the use of pigeons to convey messages and it was considered entirely legitimate to shoot them down. In Germany, unregistered breeders were regarded as traitors and many hundreds were rounded up with their birds and shot.

Falcons were used by all sides, but the birds of prey were unable to distinguish between allied pigeons and those of the enemy.  British falcons flew high and were able to observe all the islands off the Cornish coast. Any pigeon venturing over the Isles of Scilly would be targeted by falcons, which patrolled for two-hour shifts.                                                                                                              


  1. I have read about these pigeons long ago, they really did a special job ! I would like to replace our mail man with pigeons ! At least you can count on them !

    1. . . . so long as they're not shot out of the sky;-)

  2. A history of the use of pigeons #101. Nice work.

    1. It turned into a bit of a list - poor editing!

  3. I wonder what creature will next feature so large in the Dickin medal awards (dogs aside of course) as pigeons have done - rats for mine clearing?

  4. Replies
    1. We discover different skills in them all the time.

  5. Goodness! These are amazing facts - it's made me view pigeons in a whole new light.
    Alison in Wales x

  6. Thank you for sharing these interesting facts about the use of pigeons.
    I'm loving the Pigeon Post poem too! xxx

    1. There are surprisingly few poems about pigeons. I'll have to keep looking.

  7. It's amazing what these pigeons went through and how many were honored (rightly so).

  8. I enjoyed (and was enlightened) by your pigeon post today!

  9. Many thanks for sharing the facts about the use of pigeons, a very interesting read.

    All the best Jan

  10. A late footnote on pigeons. The opening chapter 'The Origin of Species', titled 'Variation under Domestication', features several pages in which Darwin reports on things he learned from extensive discussions with pigeon breeders. So these birds, though less famous than the Galapagos finches, can also lay claim to being a building block in Darwin's Theory of Evolution!
    Cheers, Gail.

  11. That sounds most interesting, thank you, Gail.


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