Having written about the role pigeons played in the success of the D-Day landings last month, I was reminded of a wonderful collection of family papers that we hold at the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, writes Debbie Watson.

Rupert Henry Ghillyer of 43 George Street, Devonport played a vital part in this. He had a loft for racing and homing pigeons (shown in the photograph on the left) between his home and St Stephen’s School, the bomb damaged building shown in the background. He offered his time and pigeons voluntarily to help with the war effort.

Rupert was a skilled labourer in Devonport Dockyard, but during the Second World War he volunteered as the Area Officer for the National Pigeon Service, Plymouth Group in his spare time. As part of this role he was authorised by Herbert Woodman, the Chief Pigeon Supply Officer, to visit any loft and birds in his area and inspect them.


Under the Defence Regulations 1939, any person keeping racing or homing pigeons had to have an official permit and was not allowed to liberate any pigeon from its own loft or carry any pigeons without an official label from the Secretary of the National Pigeon Service in Gloucester!

Rupert received his permit on November 5, 1939 and was a member of the National Pigeon Service. You may remember from the previous article that the Plymouth pigeons and their owners played a vital role in carrying communications between here and France in connection with D-Day and other military operations.

In 1945 and 1946 Rupert received documents of gratitude from the Chief Constable of the Plymouth Police force and the Royal Air Force for his contribution. Like many, Rupert was an unsung hero.


Rupert’s wife Iris also played her part in the local community and can be seen in the photograph at the top with a stall of dolls at an event at the Old People’s Club in St John’s Church, Devonport. The little girl looks very pleased!

Another Ghillyer family member who served his country well was Rupert’s father, also called Rupert.

He was born in Colchester, Essex in 1889 and joined the Royal Navy in 1907 as a stoker. He was an acting leading stoker from 1913-1914, with official promotion to this rank from April 1915, a position he retained until 1929 when he completed his service.

His record confirms that he served in the First World War for which he received three medals including the 1914-1915 Star. His record also gives his height, hair and eye colour, complexion and a description of his tattoos. Among many of the ships he served on were Monmouth, Vivid II, Indus, Tiger, Valiant, Ajax and Hood. His conduct was noted as ‘VG’ (very good) throughout.


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