The chimney, the pigeon and the coded messageComment on this story
London - He had survived the perilous flight back from Nazi-occupied territory hundreds of miles away.
Exhausted, the British “spy” pigeon swooped down on a chimney in Surrey for a rest.
And there, sadly, he fell off his perch. Perhaps overcome by fumes from the fire below, he died – with a vital coded message in a tiny capsule still strapped to his leg.
His remains lay undiscovered in the chimney for around 70 years until the home’s current owner David Martin recently decided to restore the fireplace.
“The chimney was full of twigs and rubbish,” he said. “We were stunned by how much came out. Then I started finding bits of a dead pigeon. We thought it might be a racing pigeon until we spotted the red capsule.”
The former probation officer and his wife Anne, both 74, unscrewed the capsule and found a hand-written message inside on a “cigarette paper thin” piece of paper.
It has been sent to code breakers at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, the intelligence centre where work to crack the Nazi Enigma code shortened the war by years, and to their modern-day counterparts at GCHQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, who also are trying to decipher it. Mr Martin said: “It will be amazing if we discover an unknown detail from such an important part of British history.”
About 250,000 pigeons were deployed in the Second World War. Able to fly at a mile a minute, they carried messages from behind enemy lines and, like a forerunner of the “black box”, accompanied RAF bomber crews in case they crashed.
Experts say the red capsule Mr Martin found is the type used by the Special Operations Executive. Their human agents undertook sabotage missions such as blowing up trains, bridges and factories in German-occupied territory.
The message was written by a Sergeant W Stott and contains columns of groups of five letters. It is thought that its intended recipient, ‘X02’, is code for Bomber Command.
One theory is that the message may have been requesting a bombing raid somewhere. Another is that the pigeon was bound for Field Marshal Montgomery’s HQ in Reigate, Surrey, from where he planned the D-Day landings.
Homing pigeons were taken on the D-Day invasion and released by Allied Forces to keep generals back on English shores updated on the operation.
Some pigeons were based at Bletchley Park, which is now a museum. But Colin Hill, curator of its permanent “Pigeons at War” exhibition, said all of the pigeon messages in its archives are in long-hand, not code.
“The message Mr Martin found must be highly top secret,” Mr Hill said. “The aluminium ring found on the bird’s leg tells us it was born in 1940, and we know it’s an Allied Forces pigeon because of the red capsule it was carrying, but that’s all we know.” - Daily Mail