In the town of Worthing, in the lovely surroundings of the Beach House Park, stands a curious monument known as the Warrior Birds Memorial. This lush rockery garden, replete with eccentric plaques and a birdbath, was built in the late 1940s. It serves as both a memorial commemorating the heroic messenger pigeons of the First and Second World War and a space for living pigeons and other birds to enjoy.
During the war, domestic homing pigeons were heavily utilized by the allied forces of France, Britain, Belgium and the United States to deliver top-secret messages at both land and sea. The pigeons were trained to carry messages in small capsules fitted into a harness “backpack” around their legs or necks and upon landing in a “loft” ( a portable pigeon aviary) would trigger a bell that would ring to alert signal corps of the arrival of an important message. An estimated 100,000 birds were put to work over the course of the war.
The use of these birds ultimately proved to be an advantageous and reliable strategy, especially with the difficulties posed by telegraph and telephone systems, which were vulnerable to messages being intercepted through enemy espionage.
As such, every major allied trench or battleship would have its own loft filled with homing pigeons. The lives of these animals were so highly valued that their homes were even fitted with gas-proof chambers so that the birds could enter and survive in the event of a poison gas attack.
In some cases, messenger pigeons were even brought in tanks during advances on enemy lines. They were released during the battle to fly back to base and relay information of successes or difficulties on the battlefield. The arrival of a homing pigeon with a message frequently was able to save the lives of thousands of men by delivering critical information that helped determine the course of the war, ultimately leading to the defeat of the Central powers.
However, the countermeasures by the enemy German and Ottoman Turkish armies could have deadly consequences for these bold birds. Many were killed by snipers or by falcons trained to dispatch and bring down the messenger pigeons.
Decades later, during the Second World War, homing pigeons were once again an important communication tool. Thousands of birds served the Allied forces in the “National Pigeon Service,” delivering top-secret messages at top speed from the battlefields of continental Europe back to the United Kingdom.
Just as in the Great War, these plucky pigeons in their unwitting heroism would once again have to dodge and survive both sniper bullets and the pursuing Peregrine falcons that this time had been specially trained to intercept and liquidate them by falconers working for the Nazi Luftwaffe.
Know Before You Go
The warrior birds memorial can be found in the center of the Beach House Park and is free to enter.