Pigeons and World War One

Pigeons and World War One

While horses and dogs were perhaps the celebrities of the animal world during World War One, pigeons arguably had just as crucial a role to play.

Pigeons were the messengers of the war, providing a reliable form of transportation for messages and information that was actually 95 per cent reliable - far higher than any other.

Around 100,000 pigeons were used during the war, out-classing manmade messenger systems and delivering intel across the Western Front. Even humans were less successful than the pigeons, who could travel up to a mile a minute and avoid difficult terrain or harm by flying above the battles that raged on the ground.

At the First Battle of the Marne in 1914, French troops stopped the Germans from advancing on Paris and began to pushing them back, taking their 72 lofts of pigeons with them. Throughout the battle, despite the disorientation, pigeons proved to be the most effective way of delivering messages to the French bases. They were so effective, in fact, that all of the pigeons managed to find their way back to their loft, despite the advancements of the French army trenches leaving them flying ‘blind’.

Such was their value, in fact, that the following poster was released to ensure their protection and to help prevent the unnecessary loss of any important messages:

Regulation 21A


Killing, wounding or molesting homing pigeons is punishable un the Defence of the Realm Regulations by
Six Months Imprisonment or £100 Fine

The public are reminded that homing pigeons are doing valuable work for the government, and are requested to assist in the suppression of the shooting of these birds.

£5 Reward
will be paid by the National Homing Union for information leading to the conviction of any person SHOOTING HOMING PIGEONS the property of its members.

Information should be given to the Police, Military Post or to the Secretary of the Union, C C Plackett, 14, East Parade, Leeds 

The ability of pigeons to home was the trait that made them the effective messengers that they were, allowing them to fly at speed to a specific location while avoiding enemy contact. While posters such as above were released for their protection, it was actually very difficult to shoot them. As such, the only way of potentially bringing them down was to use a natural predator such as a bird of prey.

Despite this, pigeons remained a vital part of the war and continued to deliver messages to and from Allied bases, helping to secure victory. Their extraordinary talents were noted in a number of records, including the apocryphal tale that follows:

"In October 1918, as the war neared its end, 194 American soldiers found themselves trapped by German soldiers. They were cut off from other Allied soldiers and had no working radios. The only chance they had of alerting anybody about their desperate situation was to send a pigeon with their co-ordinates attacked to its leg. The pigeon's name was Cher Ami. When released it flew 25 miles from behind German lines to the Americans headquarters. Cher Ami covered the 25 miles in just 25 minutes. The pigeon was, in fact, shot through the chest by the Germans but continued to fly home. With the "Lost Battalion's" co-ordinates, the Americans launched a rescue and the 194 men were saved. Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm for its astonishing flight. As with other pigeons, it would not have known where the American's nearest headquarters was - its natural homing instincts took over."

MLA Citation/Reference

"Pigeons and World War One". HistoryLearning.com. 2023. Web.