First World War military pigeons

Cher Ami

Cher Ami

Red Cock

Red Cock’s bravery and heroism will never be forgotten. Together with crew members in a trawler which was torpedoed and rapidly sinking during World War I, Red Cock, a messenger pigeon fitted with a message carrying the grid reference of the sinking ship and released, saving the crew as a result.

Red Cock’s heroic effort earned him the Dickin Medal for bravery, while the captain who was mortally wounded and who released the homing bird, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Cher Ami

Cher Ami is French for “dear friend”. He was a registered black, cock carrier pigeon.

However, the most famous bird recipient of an award for bravery in the First World War was a pigeon named Cher Ami. It was donated by British pigeon fanciers to US Army Signal Corps

The Lost Battalion, 77th division

The Lost Battalion, 77th division

In Argonne, France, on October 3, 1918, 500 soldiers from a battalion of the 77th Infantry became trapped and cut off with zero food and ammunition. Ironically, the lost troops were being bombarded by friendly fire. Over 300 men perished in a span of 24-hour time, with no other option available to Commander, Major Charles Whittlesey, but to append notes to carrier pigeons, but unluckily the poor birds were shot in mid-air by German snipers before they could deliver their messages.

Major Charles Whittlesey

Major Charles Whittlesey

Cher Ami, the last bird was called for. Major Whittlesey wrote a final message saying: “We are along road parallel to 276:4. Own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For Heaven’s sake, stop it!” and attached the message to Cher Ami.

Like the two previous messengers, Cher Ami was greeted with a hell of fire from the enemy. The bird was immediately shot through the breast and fell to the ground, but managed to get back into the air. Cher Ami then flew the 25 miles back to his loft at Division Headquarters through a constant barrage of enemy fire and made the journey in 25 minutes. As a result, 194 men from the 77th Infantry Division were saved. Cher Ami had delivered the message despite having been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, covered in blood, and with a leg hanging by only a tendon. He became a hero of the 77th Division and medics managed to save his life and replace his leg with a wooden one.

When the bird was well enough to travel he was sent back to the USA and became the mascot of the Department of Service. The pigeon was awarded the Croix de Guerre Medal with a palm Oak Leaf Cluster for his heroic service in delivering 12 important messages in Verdun.

He died at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, on June 13, 1919 from the wounds he received in battle and was later inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame in 1931. He also received a gold medal from the Organized Bodies of American Racing Pigeon Fanciers in recognition of his extraordinary service during World War I.

Of the 55 medals awarded to date, pigeons have been recognised 32 times.

Source: Pigeon Control Resource Centre


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