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Recalling his WWI memories
Captain Pennell recalls his time during WWI
Captain Edward Pennell from Clacton-on-Sea served with the No 27 and No 84 Squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps. Here, he relates a story about his time with the RFC, taken from his memoir presevered in the Imperial War Museum archives...
We had touched down safely after a highly successful bombing raid over Aulnoy [in France] and were heading for the comfort of our mess.
On the way we saw a large pigeon loft being looked after by two soldiers. This was something new and I was considerably intrigued.
When I enquired what it was all about I was told that the birds were for the use of our squadron. Was it some kind of joke? I could think of no connection between pigeons and the Royal Flying Corps – unless the former were to give us demonstrations on how to fly!
The puzzle was soon solved... Later in the day I was summoned to headquarters and given a full explanation of what was afoot.
The pigeons were to be dropped behind enemy lines to assist our spies who were already working there. I was to be the first to drop these strange missives which meant that I would be taken off the strength of ‘C’ Flight for the time being in order to concentrate in the ways and means of this strategy.
In short I was to be a pigeon dropper.
The hapless Pigeons were placed in a long iron box fixed under the fuselage between the undercarriage, and controlled by the joy stick (flying control column) to which was attached a Bowden wire. When the wire was pulled, it opened the bottom of the box thus ejecting the pigeons each separated in its own compartment in the box.
The individual pigeons wore a small harness to which was attached, by a piece of string, a small ring. The idea was that they would fly against each other and gradually drop to the ground. In practice it was found that after a few drops the birds became tangled up and were killed.
After a few days of waiting, weather suitable for the requirements arrived. My pigeons were duly fixed in the box attached to the undercarriage of my kite by the Army sergeant. The C.O wished me the best of luck, and I taxied out onto the aerodrome, taking off into the wind and climbing steadily to 5000 feet towards our lines.
My particular target was near Aulnoy, some four miles to the south. I was to look out for six large hay or straw stacks in a field which also contained a herd of black and white cows.
Circling around 1000 feet I searched for the stacks but they were nowhere to be seen. The time for my return drew near, and I began to realise it was a thousand to one chance that a pilot could find this sort of target. Easy enough in theory perhaps, but in practice....
On my way back, steadily climbing to get above the clouds, I looked over the side. There, below, me, was a marvellous enemy dump. There was timber, wire, field services etc, and all I had was a box of pigeons. Oh! If only I had a few bombs!
I landed and taxied up to the hangar. Here I was met by my Flight Commander and the army sergeant, both eager to know how I had got on.
When I told them my dismal story the sergeant proceeded to unload the pigeons, only to find that about half of them were dead. This, it was decided, was perhaps due to the fact that birds had been taken too high and remained in the cold too long.
Further drops were later carried out, the pigeons being fitted with small parachutes. But this proved no more successful, and so far as is known, this was the end of pigeon dropping except by other ways.
last updated: 17/10/2008 at 16:37