History Is For the Birds

Earlier today I was watching some History Channel show about artifacts in museums. It was a surprisingly fast-paced and interesting program. One of the stories was about a living communication device that saved two hundred lives.

Communication technology is taken for granted today. Soldiers have two-way devices, computers, satellite access, GPS and more. In World War I, battlefield communication involved wired telegraph, runners and … I’ll get to that in a moment. The subject of this story I watched on TV was about a battalion that got cut off from supplies and reinforcements when surrounded by enemy divisions. They were holding their own with guns when suddenly they encountered cannon fire. They quickly realized the source was their own military … a bad case of friendly fire. Those shooting the cannon didn’t realize they were firing on their own trapped battalion.

Radio communication didn’t work, wires were cut by the enemy and runners could not get out. There was only one method left: carrier pigeons. Also known as homing pigeons. Really.

These trained pigeons were a routine part of getting the word out in 1918. They were trained to return “home” from up to twenty miles away. This battalion had only one left and enemy soldiers knew the strategy and were trained to spot and shoot down the birds. The battalion commander wrote this note: “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.” The message was attached to the pigeon named Cher Ami, who managed to fly 25 miles, even though he was injured by enemy fire. The message reached its destination in only 25 minutes, the shelling stopped, 200 American soldiers were saved and Cher Ami became a decorated war hero.

This story is why I like studying history. In our world of internet and smart phones it is interesting to see that what we now consider primitive forms of communication could be just as effective as today’s devices. And they work in similar ways … recharge a smart phone battery = feed a pigeon. Although a pigeon is a bit messier.

Click HERE for another version of the story.
Click HERE for yet another.


Nancy said…
not to mention the bird cooks up better then the phone...just saying