ABOUT 300 Colchester racing pigeons were involved in secret service work in Occupied Europe during the Second World War, a little-known fact faithfully reported in Hervey Benham’s book Essex at War which recorded what happened between 1939 and 1945.
This remarkable aspect of the war is described by Mr Benham as follows: “Let the pigeons’ part not be overlooked.
“Twenty-two Colchester pigeon fanciers played behind the scenes their part in the winning of the war.
“Prior to 1939 these men trained their birds for show purposes and for racing, but when in April 1943 a Special Section Carrier Pigeon Service was formed, efforts were wholeheartedly turned towards war.
“Mr Arthur A. Finch, of 12 Speedwell Road, Colchester, was appointed Pigeon Service Officer for the Colchester Section, and Colchester fanciers supplied approximately 300 birds for special secret service work in Occupied Europe.
“Several were used by the Maquis and gave the exact position of flying bomb sites.
“Several of the 300 birds never returned, many being wounded.”
The “Maquis” was the name given to members of the French Resistance against the Nazis. Pigeons would be smuggled into Occupied Europe in boxes dropped by parachute at pre-arranged locations.
These would be picked up by the Resistance who would then put messages in small containers fitted to the legs of pigeons which would then fly home to their loft in Britain, 22 of which were in Colchester.
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