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It’s A Braw Do by Sandra Anderson

COO! COO! COO!

I was put on a vital important mission to save the world, not quite the world, but some brave airmen. I had been trained to fly home to my loft and carry a backpack containing a capsule holding a message. I was on loan to the RAF Pigeon Service based at Leuchars but my home was a loft in Broughty Ferry, Dundee. During my training I heard some horror stories about pigeons who had not returned as they’d been caught by the enemy and destroyed. Another tale was the British were capturing the enemy’s birds and attaching false messages to confuse the enemy. The distances I had been trained to fly became longer and longer until I was able to fly for hours and return safely home.

One of my ancestors, was a First World War homing pigeon. She had a time delay camera attached to her chest which took photographs of the enemy’s location. I was also a hen War Pigeon.

This was my very first operational flight. It was 23 February 1942, and I was in my metal, waterproof box waiting to be released. I was very excited and knew something special was happening. Next to me was an identical box containing a handsome chap, a pigeon called Stinky (I hoped he wasn’t). I used to be flighty but was on a mission and didn’t have any time for silly flirting. We were aboard the Bristol Beaufort a torpedo bomber returning from a mission in Norway. The noise in the plane was worse than thunder, it never stopped. There was a sudden, huge bang when we were hit by enemy fire. The aircraft lost altitude, ditched to the side and Stinky and I were thrown around. We were terrified. We didn’t make our nice gentle, ‘Coo, Coo’ noises but screeched and trembled with fear. Our human crew were bawling, ‘Mayday, Mayday’ in strangled voices.  I wondered what was going to happen to us? As long as I fly home, I’ll be alright. I hope I don’t have to fly at night as I’m afraid of the dark.

The four airmen landed in the freezing North Sea and climbed out of the damaged plane into an emergency, inflatable dinghy. I was so panicked that as soon as my metal box was opened, I escaped. A message was attached to Stinkie but he was lost at sea.

I stopped at night and rested on an oil tanker. The crew were very kind and gave me water and grains. They were amazed that I could immerse my beak in water and sucked, just like my cousins, the doves, not like ordinary birds, peck at water. I had no time to waste and as soon as it was light, I flew off in the direction of my home.

I flew the 120 miles to my loft in Broughty Ferry where I was discovered. I was exhausted but happy to be home. My beautiful feathers were covered in fuel. I was cleaned up and reverted to my usual gorgeousness and enjoyed a special meal.

The airbase at RAF Leuchars in Fife was alerted and a search and rescue mission launched for the crew. Using the time difference from the plane ditching to my arrival in the loft, taking into account the wind direction and the hampering to my flight speed caused by oil spoilage to my feathers, the RAF located the crash site within fifteen minutes and the crew were rescued.

On 2 December 1943 I was the first to be awarded the Dickin Medal by Maria Dickin, who founded the PDSA. The citation read ‘for delivering a message under exceptional difficulties and so contributing to the rescue of an Air Crew while serving with the RAF in February 1942’. I knew this was a momentous occasion.

The four airmen held a celebration dinner for me. I was presented with a set of golden RAF wings. I was in my cage at the top of the table. I would have liked to fly around and perch on some heads, but this was not allowed. I could see they were eating and toasting my good health. I puffed out my chest and strutted around my cage as I was very proud of myself.

I have heard of other pigeons in containers dropped by parachute behind enemy lines in the hope that local people would find them and send information to the Allies. Testimony from bird trainers and access to declassified documents proves the crucial role pigeons played in saving the lives of soldiers and airmen.

When I died my owner donated me, my medal and trophy of golden wings from the RAF to Dundee Art Galleries and Museums.

Sandra Anderson

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