War Pigeons


Army carrier pigeons bathing, France, during World War I.
National Library of Scotland, via Flickr

How could a pigeon help soldiers? Mike Procter and Anne Muir look at a very unusual set of war heroes - birds who carry messages!

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Transcript


Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I'm Mike Procter.

Voice 2

And I'm Anne Muir. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

It was October of 1943, four years into World War Two. A messenger named GI Joe was carrying an important message to army leaders. GI Joe had to deliver the message – it was urgent. The lives of over one hundred men depended on it. The men were a group of British army soldiers. Their fighting had gone well for them that day. And they had arrived early in this particular town in Italy.

Voice 2

But then, they remembered something! Being early could be deadly. American airplanes were coming to bomb the town. The air strike had been ordered while the town was still controlled by the enemy. The airmen did not know the British soldiers were now there. And during the fighting the British had lost their radio communication. GI Joe had to reach the army leaders quickly to stop the air raid.

Voice 1

GI Joe delivered the message only just before the airplanes arrived. The airplanes turned back and the soldiers were saved. GI Joe was a hero. Three years later, he received an award for this act. The Lord Mayor of London gave GI Joe a war medal. Was GI Joe proud of this award? No-one really knows. You see, GI Joe was a bird! He was a pigeon.

Today's Spotlight tells the amazing story of carrier pigeons during World War Two.

Voice 2

Many birds are able to find their way across huge distances, but pigeons offer a striking example. A pigeon is very good at finding its way back home after being released in a strange place – even a place several hundred kilometres away. No one fully understands how pigeons do this. However, experts believe that pigeons use the sun as a guide. They also believe that pigeons use the earth's magnetic field to establish direction – much like a sailor's compass. When pigeons get nearer to home they use their eyes to identify where they are going. Some experts believe pigeons also use their sense of smell.

Voice 1

Many people are amazed by pigeons' natural skill for finding their way home. Because of this, people in many parts of the world raise and race pigeons for sport. Pigeon owners keep their pigeons in small buildings called 'lofts'. The owners organise races and release their pigeons hundreds of kilometres away from home. The pigeon that returns to its loft at the highest speed wins the race.

Voice 2

At the beginning of World War Two, 7000 of Britain's pigeon owners gave their pigeons to help in the war effort. The pigeons were message carriers. During World War Two, British forces used nearly a quarter of a million (250,000) birds in this way. British airplanes flying over enemy territory would carry pigeons with them. If the airplane was shot down, the crew would release the pigeon with a message to let the British air force know what had happened.

Voice 1

In February 1942, a British war plane was on its way home from Europe. It had been badly damaged by enemy gun fire over Norway. Finally it crashed into the cold winter sea. It was about two hundred kilometres from home. The crew struggled in the freezing water. They did not know exactly where they were, but they had a pigeon with them. When they released the bird, it was covered in sea-water, and oil from the damaged airplane. However, it still managed to fly away. The British air force searched for the missing crew that day. But, they could find nothing in the cold, dark sea.

The following morning, the pigeon arrived at its owner's home in Scotland. It was very, very tired and dirty. The bird was safe at home, but where was the crew? A pigeon expert examined the bird carefully. He knew the time the airplane had crashed, and the time the bird had arrived. He used information about the wind and weather to estimate how far the bird could have flown. The air force used this information to establish where to launch a new search. This time, they found the crew in just fifteen minutes! The bird had saved the lives of four men. The men later honoured the pigeon at a dinner party. And they named the pigeon 'Winkie'.

Voice 2

Winkie was the first of 32 pigeons from World War Two to earn an award called the Dickin Medal. The medal is for animals that have served humans in a special way during times of need or conflict. The Dickin Medal is named after Maria Dickin. Almost one hundred years ago, Maria started an organisation called the PDSA. This organization provides health care for sick animals belonging to needy people. In 1943, Maria established the Dickin Medal.

Voice 1

Altogether, PDSA has awarded 63 Dickin Medals to animals for their brave service during war. Winkie the pigeon was the first - and GI Joe's award was also a Dickin Medal. In recent years, most medals have been awarded to dogs. The latest animal to receive it was a dog called Treo - for finding hidden bombs in Afghanistan.

Voice 2

It is hard to imagine that any animal could understand the idea of a medal. Can a pigeon know that it is receiving an award for 'being brave'? A pigeon flies home because that is what pigeons do. In this way, it may seem strange to give an award to a pigeon. But the Dickin Medal serves an important purpose. It helps humans to remember that they depend on many other animals for life. Humans may be the planet's most complex, powerful and spiritual animal, but that makes us especially responsible to care for and respect other animals. Thanking animals for helping humans may not be as strange as it seems!

Voice 1

The writer of today's programme was Mike Procter. The producer was Nick Mangeolles. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom. Computer users can read our scripts, hear our programs and see our word list on our website: www.radioenglish.net. This programme is called "War Pigeons".

Voice 2

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Question:

Are there any animals who help people in your country?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
anhnguyen
said on January 12, 2011

a

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anhnguyen
said on January 12, 2011

“If i were a bird, i would be a pigeon”. I like this sentence from a Viet Namese song, “Tu Nguyen”. I think this kind of bird always brings happiness and peace to everyone

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kenhieuloilam
said on January 29, 2011

I like animals very much. They are simple, lovely and nice. They usually love their owners very much. Their activities bring fun and ease sadness. Simpleness, lovelyness and niceness of theirs help me always aim to the good.

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tank!
said on February 07, 2012

it would be true to say that a pigeon is not only a bird of world, a pigeon is a a bird of war! It is said some Japanese military use pigeons for post nowadays… Even they have some new kinds of them.

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José María de Córdoba
said on February 07, 2012

Hello everyone, I was teen year, long time ago, I love the pigeons. I think is an animal very inteligent and also amazing. Thank you for your Spotlight I recive all new programmes.

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phuc_th
said on February 11, 2012

can i download all program ?

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mackydoanh
said on February 12, 2012

This is necessary thing to more understand about the world around us,but nowadays Pigeonss unuseful,if yes theys laying at the plate or waiting for World War Three.

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Mira
said on February 12, 2012

Really It’s very nice topic.. It’s very good to know about pigeons as well and this topic teach us how to respect the animals and how to care of them.

Thanks for you all about this topic.

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Skender
said on February 12, 2012

This story is another example of very good relations between a man and an animal. Further more white pigeons are simbol of liberty and peace.
On the other hand this story seems to me a litlle strange. I can’t understand how we can give an award or medal to a pigeon? I think it can’t understant the value of an award. Whereas it might apreciates more a delicious meal than a medal. Even before I read another story about a mouse trial in England. It is charged for commiting a crime and at the and of the trial the judge declared it guily! This true story took place there in 1800 and left me without word.
Skender from Albania

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nature187_vn
said on March 21, 2013

Follow me, bird pigeon is symbol of peace.This is really story interesting about these birds.So that we need to protecting and taking care them,like as it is representative for the peace on the world!

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tranquan
said on March 21, 2013

These are brave stories about the pigeons, dogs or another animals. The animal will not know what means of the medal such as people. Animals look for way to come back home is their instinct. People give them a medal just for thankful form and respect them more.

Luis Piedra's avatar
Luis Piedra
said on March 21, 2013

Good program
The pigeons are very intelligent and have capacity to fly great distances, are of great help for all humanity.
Thanks Spotlight

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Jack S
said on March 22, 2013

My grandfather feeds some pigeons. But I don’t like them very much:)

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toantb
said on August 18, 2015

In my country, there are many animals who can help people. For example, Dogs help police to find the crimes and drug,  buffalo help farmer to plough a field, Cat help people to catch mouse…

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Honneur
said on August 30, 2019

Recently, Brazil had some accidents with dams which store mineral rejects. In these events, some people had been buried under a millions ton of rejects. The crews of rescuers had big help from dogs trained for this work. The population is grateful to these brave animals.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on November 09, 2019

From .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
To spotlight program
Subject to answer to the question below
Location São Paulo city São Paulo Brazil
Saturday 09, November 2019

Dear Nick Mangeolles, Mike Procter, and Anne Muir

I want to thank you for producing and writing more one great article for us brazilian people and others around the World.
Question 1 - Are there any animals who help people in your country?
Answer 1 - Yes, there are.
The dogs have helped the Police officers at the Airports of which smell the passengers’ luggages, and trucks to find drugs and other materials that are not permitted to carry into the aircrafts.  So that brave animals have avoided many many many kilograms of cocaine, marijuana, and other bad substances to arrive at other countries.
God bless you
Severino Ramos da Silva
Brazil