War pigeon service

Hampshire's Jimmy Gray and Roy Marshall walk out to open the batting at Burnaby Road in a 1950s match

PICTURE GALLERY: Memories of Hampshire cricket at Burnaby Road

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On this day in 1896 the War Pigeon Service was started at Portsmouth Royal Naval Barracks and at Devonport.

Homing pigeons had been used for some years by naval officers who had been impressed by their effectiveness in delivering messages to shore.

A Commander Tufnell of the Signal School and Mr Barrett, a naval gunner with experience of training pigeons, were appointed to run the new service and a leading signalman was employed to look after and presumably muck out the 200 pigeons.

A naval pigeon loft was built at Royal Clarence Yard, Gosport at a cost of £350 and the annual feeding cost was £150 a year.

In 1904 the stock of birds was increased to 300 and many of them set records for overseas flying.

At this time the editor of the Hampshire Telegraph expressed astonishment, on more than one occasion, that the French and Germans were allowed to train their carrier pigeons from points along the south coast.

The development of wireless communication led to the demise of the service and the birds were eventually sold and the loft closed in 1908 – from John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.