Thousands of Teesside racing pigeons took flight for an unusual commemoration of the end of the First World War .

During the 1914-18 conflict, pigeons were used to fly crucial messages back home from the fields of conflict.

And at the weekend, about 9,000 North-east pigeons – including 2,500 from Teesside – recreated those journeys by winging their way from Ypres in Belgium to their home lofts back in Britain.

After being “liberated” at 6.30am on Sunday, July 22, the fastest of all 9,000, flying home in 6hrs 45 minutes, was a pigeon belonging to the Bowden brothers, Mick and Trevor, of Skelton Green . And the winning bird’s name? Brexit – of course!

The race was organised by the Hartlepool-based Up North Combine, which is the UK’s largest racing organisation.

And president John Thompson said the Ypres event was a fitting way to recognise the invaluable contribution pigeons made in the First World War.

He said: “Thousands of pigeons played a crucial role in the Great War – carrying life-saving messages over enemy lines and later even being awarded medals for bravery.

“A number of pigeons were honoured, including one of the most well-known, Pigeon 2709, who, in 1917, was sent to deliver a crucial message back to headquarters when he came under enemy fire and was shot in the leg. A 20 mile flight took 21 hours, but he got the message home before dying the next day.

“With the advantages of communication technology today, it is easy to forget that homing pigeons were often the difference between life and death for First World War service men and women.”

Said to be one of the toughest birds on the planet – voluntarily flying more than 20,000 miles a year – the birds used their natural instincts, following landmarks by aerial recognition, as well as their sense of smell, to ensure messages were safely delivered.

And it was that natural instinct which ensured about 80% of those taking part at the weekend reached home the same day, with the rest landing on Monday.

Sunday’s race came four years after a similar event held to mark the centenary of the start of World War One.

Winners, nationally and regionally, were awarded medals and diplomas symbolising the Dickin Medals for gallantry handed out to 62 animals – including 32 pigeons – during World Wars One and Two.


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