The main role of the RAF pigeon service was to convey messages when other means such as radios had failed or were unavailable. One obvious use was for aircraft crew who had crashed as a means of notifying authorities of their whereabouts. The pigeon service was integrated into the wider communications infrastructure at the time. In the event of a pigeon failing to make it back to its loft after release, instructions were given that a message should be passed on to the Air Ministry as a matter of 'urgent priority' via a telegraph communication from the Postal Authorities.
It appears that the pigeon was a most successful mechanism for delivering these messages of last resort. This manual cites a failure rate of around five percent which was mainly accounted for by 'ignorance of the pigeon’s capabilities' among the aircrew attempting to release the bird. Hence, the manual goes to great lengths to urge the readers to familiarise themselves with the proper procedure for handling and releasing birds. The manual emphasises the importance of the correct handling of pigeons with a cautionary tale of a crashed aircraft: the pilot lost both pigeons while attempting to affix a message to one of the birds and he and his passenger were only saved by the fortunate arrival of a passing patrol boat.
- Full title:
- Pigeon Service Manual
- Her Majesty's Stationery Office / Darling & Sons, Bacon Street, London E2
- Book / Manual
- Held by:
- British Library
- Article by:
- Matthew Shaw
- The war machine
Millions of animals were relied upon by all sides in World War One. Curator Dr Matthew Shaw discusses the role of animals in transport, logistics, cavalry and communications, and considers their psychological function for troops and as propaganda.