Now here’s an interesting thing. I’ve just read “From El Alamein to the Alps with Pigeons” by Bill Button (who used to write a pigeon column for The Racing Pigeon Weekly under the name “Uno Solo”), which relates – you’ll be unsurprised to hear – his WW2 experiences running pigeon lofts in North Africa and Italy.
I rather enjoyed it, because it brought across a lot of the feeling Sigm (signalmen) had for their pigeons. If a pigeon arrived back injured, they did their best to sort it out and patch it up with whatever they had to hand: and we tend to forget that the Axis aside, war pigeons perpetually had to deal with the threat of their Other Enemy… hawks, hungry for a slice of pigeon pie (though without the pie). No wonder they often flew faster than a mile every minute. 😉
However, for our purposes, page 1 tells us something simple and straightforward that changes our basic perspective on the problem we face. Early in the war, Button had been drafted to a civilian loft in Hurstpierpoint (in West Sussex) owned by a Mr Greer, which supplied 6-12 birds to the Armed Forces (normally the Army) ever 2-3 days:-
“When the birds returned to the ‘home’ loft we had to deliver the messages to what I believe was Arundel Castle. Although we saw many of the messages, they meant nothing to us, having been written in cipher. On arrival as the Castle, we had to report to the cipher room and hand over the messages. Entry was forbidden.“
And so there you have it. Contrary to what you might think, the British Army sent pigeon messages in cipher throughout the war. Hence the whole romantic notion that what we are looking at could only have been sent in high desperation from France on D-Day rather evaporates… it could have been sent pretty much any time from late 1940 onwards, and for one or more of a whole panoply of reasons.
In fact, because [as Mike Moor helpfully pointed out (and more on that another time)] pigeon pads sent out to the British Army by Wing House for D-Day were overstamped “OPERATIONAL MESSAGE – Telephone to War Office Signal Office, WHITEHALL 9400“, there is a strong case to be made that D-Day is in fact the one day this message could not have been sent.
Thus does History iterate slowly towards a better picture of what actually happened. 🙂