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Pigeons Awarded Medals
Supplied by Bob Kennedy, 23 Oaklands Avenue, Irvine, KA12 OSE.

Reader Bob Kennedy from Irvine, remembers one racing pigeon called White Vision - who saved 11 men.
He said: "During the last 2nd world war, 29 pigeons were awarded the Dickens Medal - the animal Victoria Cross.
"White Vision was bred by the Fleming Brothers of Forgewood Road, Motherwell, and loaned to the National Pigeon Service of the British Army.
"On October 11th, 1943, this pigeon saved 11 crewmen on a Catalina Flying Boat by returning to base in terrible conditions with details of where and when the plane ditched in the sea.

The flying boat suffered engine failure, and was forced to ditch in a rough sea in northern waters at approximately 08.20 hours on 11th October 1943. Owing to radio failure no SOS was received from the aircraft and no fix obtained. As the aircraft was overdue and suspected to be in difficulties, rescue searches were made but were limited owing to the severe weather conditions. No aircraft were permitted to take off. At 17.00 hours "White Vision" arrived with a message giving the position and other information concerning the aircraft and crew. Time of origin of this message 08.20 hours. As a result, sea search was continued in the direction indicated and at 05.00 hours the following morning the aircraft was sighted by HSL and the crew rescued. The aircraft had to be abandoned and sank. Weather conditions; visibility at place of release of pigeon, 100 yards. Visibility at Base when pigeon arrived, 300 yards. Head wind for pigeon 25 miles per hour. Heavy sea running, very low cloud 10/10ths, distance about 60 miles. Number of lives saved, 11. Bred by Messrs Fleming Bros, 23 Forgewood Road, Motherwell, Scotland. Trained by RAF Sollum Voe, Shetlands.

Swiss Army Service the Pigeon Corps

Homing Pigeons

In 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.

At the circus? Watching a variety show on telly? No - I was up a pigeon loft with a friends collection of prize homers.

Back 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.

This 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 supports.

I 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.

Dogs were even trained to transport these same tubes over long distances.

The Pigeon Unit was so highly regarded that it was not disbanded until the mid-1970s, having existed for nearly 100 years.