the early autumn of 1999 I spent an enthralling couple of hours
watching performing Tipplers, Tumblers and Birmingham Rollers going
through their absolutely spell-binding repertoires.
the circus? Watching a variety show on telly? No - I was up a pigeon
loft with a friends collection of prize homers.
at the zoo, I was describing this when one of our adult volunteers,
Gila Allen, revealed that she knew all about homing pigeons - she
had served her Swiss Army Service in the Pigeon Corps.
was as recently as 1961 and the portable "loft" was green lorries,
which looked like small furniture vans,
with a portable aviary of chain link stretched over tubular steel
was told that even racing pigeons will home to something like this
if they are at first kept in it for a couple of weeks.
Astonishingly, Gila also told me that she was trained to land by
parachute with up to eight wire tubes, each containing a pigeon,
strapped round her waist.
were even trained to transport these same tubes over long distances.
Pigeon Unit was so highly regarded that it was not disbanded
until the mid-1970s, having existed for nearly 100 years.