Cosham pigeon Gustav brings first D-Day news

Gustav the pigeon being awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal for delivering the first message from a ship off the Normandy beaches. Picture: PDSA

Gustav the pigeon being awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal for delivering the first message from a ship off the Normandy beaches. Picture: PDSA

0
Have your say

Seventy years ago today the orchestrators of the D-Day landings were desperate for news.

A radio blackout meant they had no idea how things were progressing on the other side of the English Channel.

DDAY14''Soldiers making their way to shore with equipment, France 1944 PPP-140304-223123001

DDAY14''Soldiers making their way to shore with equipment, France 1944 PPP-140304-223123001

But the British had a cunning plan, a scheme which hinged on the homing instincts of a pigeon called Gustav, who was trained in Cosham by Frederick Jackson.

Gustav brought first news of the invasion and was one of six carrier pigeons given by the RAF to Reuters’s war correspondent Montague Taylor who had travelled with the Allied forces to Normandy.

The birds were taken into battle in wicker baskets on servicemen’s backs and set free to fly home with vital information.

On June 6, 1944, Gustav was released off the Normandy coast and, faced with headwinds of up to 30mph and no sun to guide him on a cloudy day, flew 150 miles to his loft on Thorney Island. It took him five hours and 16 minutes.

DDAY14''Churchill tanks preparing to depart, Lee On Solent, June 1944''(c) The News, War Series 2874 PPP-140304-224045001

DDAY14''Churchill tanks preparing to depart, Lee On Solent, June 1944''(c) The News, War Series 2874 PPP-140304-224045001

His handler, Sgt Harry Halsey, took the message which read: ‘We are just 20 miles or so off the beaches.

‘First assault troops land 0750. Signal says no interference from enemy gunfire on beach... steaming steadily in formation.

‘Lightnings, Typhoons, Fortresses crossing since 0545. No enemy aircraft seen.’

This was no one-off for Gustav. His early missions saw him carrying messages out of occupied Belgium for the resistance.

He was awarded the Dickin medal – the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross – on September 1, 1944. But poor old Gustav was to meet a very unheroic end.

After the war he died when his breeder trod on him while mucking out his loft.

Can anyone shed more light on Frederick Jackson and does anyone know if it was he who trod on Gustav?

The rest of today’s pictures come from The News’s commemorative publication called D-Day 70: In Pictures.

It contains photographs from the period that we believe may never have been published before. It can be bought from newsagents and News offices for £2.

Back to the top of the page