The Pigeon Gap

April 17th, 2012

This Past Imperfect post about Closing the Pigeon Gap is a fascinating look at how 19th century continental powers made use of networks of carrier pigeons in wartime, and how the British responded to the perceived threat of a Pigeon Gap developing. All good stuff.

And then there's this one passage that reads like a scene from a discarded Blackadder Goes Forth script, recounting a description by Lieutenant Alan Goring of a sticky moment during the Passchendaele offensive of 1917:

[...] I was left with just a handful of men, all that was left out of those three platoons…. We had two pigeons in a basket, but the trouble was that the wretched birds had got soaked when the platoon floundered into the flooded ground. We tried to dry one of them off as best we could, and I wrote a message, attached it to its leg, and sent it off.

To our absolute horror, the bird was so wet that it just flapped into the air and then came straight down again, and started actually walking towards the German line. Well, if that message had got into the Germans' hands, they would have known that we were on our own and we'd have been in real trouble. So we had to try to shoot the pigeon before he got there. A revolver was no good. We had to use rifles, and there we were, all of us, rifles trained over the edge of this muddy breastwork trying to shoot this bird scrambling about in the mud. It hardly presented a target at all.

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