D-Day

Original Tweeter: Racing Pigeon Reenacts Historic D-Day Role 75 Years On

Gustav flew 150 miles across the Channel with the first news that the Normandy landings had begun.

Royal Signaller Harry Swann re-enacted the role in Normandy (Picture: Royal Pigeon Racing Association).

A racing pigeon has been released on Sword Beach in Normandy to re-enact the role of Gustav, a war pigeon who delivered the first news of D-Day back to Britain, 75 years ago.

For his act, Gustav was awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery, considered to be the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

Carrier pigeons played a vital part in both world wars acting as military messengers with their homing ability and speed.

In the D-Day landings, their role was to bring back the first messages from Normandy. 

The invasion fleet was under radio silence to avoid enemy detection which led to the release of Gustav who flew 150 miles across the Channel to RAF Thorney Island near Chichester, West Sussex.

Within five hours and 16 minutes, the first message was received back to the UK that the Normandy landings had commenced.

Watch: the vital role of pigeons for British troops.

Richard Chambers, Development Officer at the Royal Pigeon Racing Association, has been in Normandy for the commemorations: “It has been incredible to recreate the iconic scene on Sword Beach 75 years on.

"Working with NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps we have been able to further commemorate and highlight the crucial role racing pigeons played in wartime.

"Our pigeon will be flying 145 miles back to its home in Portsmouth which it will complete in around three and a half hours.”

During the Second World War, nearly 250,000 birds were used by the Army, the RAF and the Civil Defence Services (Picture: Royal Pigeon Racing Association).

Many pigeons air dropped in parachute cages to the pigeoneers signallers in the field. The pigeons would be placed into a cardboard container which was strapped to a parachute.

Adam Forty from the Royal Signals Museum said:

"If they didn't have pigeons or any other form of communication, you could parachute a pigeon in to communicate with them and they could bring that message home.

"Some of the pigeons that were released were actually kept in their little containers for up to five days which is a tall order for a small bird."

The signallers would be dressed in uniform and their job was to construct and immaculately clean pigeon lofts.