A Royal Signaller serving with Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps has re-enacted sending the first message back from the D-Day beaches – by releasing a pigeon from France on the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings.
Signaller Harry Swann – dressed in full WW2 uniform – released ‘Bernard’ from Sword Beach in Normandy to re-enact the first message sent by homing pigeon on D-Day.
In June 1944, the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps – as the British ‘I Corps’ – led thousands of multi-national troops landing on Sword and Juno beaches in Normandy. To mark ‘D-Day 75’ this year, troops from the modern-day Corps headquarters returned to France with members of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA).
75 years on, at the precise time and place, Signaller Swann released the pigeon from the seaside resort of Hermanville-sur-Mer back to the UK to represent the moment when the first troops had come ashore.
24-year-old Signaller Swann works within the NATO headquarters in South West England as an Installation Technician.
Dressed in authentic WW2 uniform, on loan from the Royal Signals Museum in Blandford, the Royal Signaller completed his own personal ‘D-Day’ journey by sailing across from Gosport to Normandy.
He explained: "I really do feel for them, how horrible the crossing was. Even though I was in a smaller boat than came across 75 years ago, I was absolutely seasick!
"But it’s awesome to be here, to say the least. I’m proud to be able to complete this small act, to honour those soldiers who originally landed here.”
Carrier pigeons played a vital part in both world wars acting as military messengers with their homing ability and speed. Over 100,000 pigeons were used by British troops with a success rate of 95% in delivering their messages.
‘Gustav’ was the first pigeon to arrive back on 6 June 1944, in five and a half hours. He carried a message from a Reuters correspondent dispatched from the beach as the first landing took place. For his act, Gustav was awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery, considered to be the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
Richard Cambers of the RPRA said: "The number one reason they used pigeons on D-Day was because of their homing instinct.
"A pigeon has got a tremendous ability to find its way back to a central location where it lives. Not much fazes them, they want to get back home, they have a really big incentive to get back home – be that for food, be that for their partners, etcetera. And in the Second World War it was to serve their country.
"With all the shells going off, with all the chaos of gunfire and being so exposed in the open air, these birds would just go through it. So, it's really important that they did that and they did their duty.
"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.”
Story by Allied Rapid Reaction Corps Public Affairs Office