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Pigeons: The Doves of War

The Army’s Signal Corps used pigeons for communications from WWI, and into the Korean War; to this end, the Pigeon Service was active at Fort Monmouth until it discontinuance in 1957. Pigeons and their use in War was something of a point of interest for the general population, as is evidenced by the publication of articles and photographic features in various magazines.

One example of this was published in Popular Science Monthly, in May 1918, titled “The Dove of Peace is resting, but The Doves of War are Active.” The article was brief, only two pages, and appeared in a section of the Monthly that was mostly a photo exposé. The importance of the pigeons is summarized in the article in one sentence:

“These birds are used to carry messages from the front to the headquarters behind the lines.”

Releasing the pigeons.

Carrier pigeons that are offered to the “Government” must first be tried out, the writer stated. “They must be wise as a judge, swift of wing and of great endurance to be useful.” The training activities that appeared in this article took place near Washington, D.C., and training was not only for the pigeons, but also for the pigeon handlers.

Photograph of a Soldier affixing a message to a pigeon's leg.

As explained, training of the pigeons was under control of the Intelligence Bureau of the Signal Corps, where thousands of “carrier pigeons” were trained for service at the front. Another photograph depicts a “row of cotes” and pigeons in flight; an insert photograph depicts how the capsule containing the message was affixed to the pigeons leg.

Pigeons in exercise flight, and image of how to affix a message to the leg.

The photographs included in this article are marked as copyrighted by the “International Film Service.” This copy of Popular Science Monthly was provided courtesy of www.Googlebooks.com.

Note: This blog authored by Floyd Hertweck, and edited/posted by Chrissie Reilly.  Also, the pigeons used were all actually homing pigeons, but many articles – even in scientific and official publications – referred to the birds as “carriers.”  When citing articles like this, we try to keep the same terminology used in the original piece, and provide clarification via footnote.

Posted in From the Archives, Pigeons.

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  1. RRVenezia-Walsh says

    What’s interesting about the last picture is the harness attached to the bird’s body. My mother told me that during WWII she was responsible for ordering these harnesses from a local company: the Playtex Brassiere manufacturer was then located in Asbury Park, NJ. I thought some folks would appreciate this little bit of Ft Monmouth trivia.