BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

16 October 2014
your place and mine
Your Place & Mine Radio Ulster Website

BBC Homepage
BBC Northern Ireland
greater Belfast
contact ypam
about ypam

print versionprint version

Contact Us

Reporting The War

The satellite phone is the new darling of the war reporter today, but the humble pigeon was the fail safe mode of communication during D-Day.

Northern Ireland edition of The Stars and  Stripes

writeAdd a new article
contribute your article to the site


Robin Duff, BBC War correspondent assigned to the US Air Force, using a Midget recorder Whether it's a scared war virgin with a pencil and notepad in his hand or a multi-million pound, high-tech news crew, the words and images from the frontline have shaped how the world perceives war, from its political reasons to its practical horrors.

William Howard Russell, probably the first war correspondent, described himself as ‘the miserable parent of a luckless tribe’. Russell (1820–1907), reported on the Crimean war for The Times and went on to report on the American civil war, and the Zulu wars.

The 20th century brought the realities of war into our homes via the radio and then television and by the 1980's the 24 hour news channel meant a captivated audience of millions watched safely at home as cameras in aircraft showed ‘smart’ bombs destroying bridges, buildings, and vehicles. Even more vivid were the pictures transmitted by miniature cameras in the noses of the bombs or missiles themselves.

The US field manual FM 100–5 recognizes that the importance of understanding the impact of raw television coverage is ‘not so that commanders can control it, but so they can anticipate adjustments to their operations and plans’. In 1995 the former BBC journalist Martin Bell, a man in harms way more than most, said that ‘the media and the military are partners in the same enterprise’.

In the 21st century, news gathering in general and war news in particular is reported at lightening speed - the military leaders of today have to consider the implications of their actions due to the intrepid war correspondents and their hi-tech team who can beam live pictures to millions of homes around the globe.

D-Day News Gathering

Back in 1944 however, things were very different as this small news column from the Belfast Telegraph shows :



The invasion army has thought of everything, including carrier pigeons to carry the big news home if all else fails.
A wing commander arrived here only a few hours before I embarked on my landing ship tank and presented me with a basket of four pigeons, complete with food and message-carrying equipment.

Belfast Telegraph 6th June 1944

Paddy Power

One particular pigeon - Paddy, was awarded the Dicken Medal - the equivalent of the Victoria Cross - the only bird in Ireland to hold this honour.
Paddy was the first bird from hundreds to return to England with news of D-Day on the beaches.

He was trained by Carnlough man John McMullan.
Click on the picture below to see the BBC NI Newsline programme about this famous bird.

Paddy the pigeon

The internet, email and mobile phone technology has empowered a modern generation with up to the minute news bites showing every detail of battle, almost instantaneously. Millions tuned in to watch the live CNN broadcasts of Desert Storm in 1991 and the current Iraqi campaign.

The sheer size of news traffic around the world today is vast. However the statistics below contrast the gulf in volume of information transferred in 1944 compared to today.


Picture of Tommy Shields in tropical kit taken in the Red Sea just before war was declared in 1939

cable and wireless advert
Cable and Wireless advert 6th June 1944

An advert for the company Cable and Wireless in the Irish News on D Day, proudly claimed how their messages "always went through" helping the war effort and adding that ..

"approximately 2 million words pass through the central telegraph station of Cable and Wireless every day"..

That figure would have been impressive in 1944, but today it's estimated that 3 billion emails are sent on an average day, with an almost incalculable number of words within them.



When news of the invasion did reach Northern Ireland, the hunger for information was just as acute as it is today, with newspapers and radio the main resource.

In among the ever-present adverts for all manner of cures such as Phensic, Rennies and Bob Martin's Condition Powder Tablets for dogs, The Belfast Telegraph gauged the feeling of the public as the greatest ever military invasion began.

Picture of Tommy Shields in tropical kit taken in the Red Sea just before war was declared in 1939


peopel reading the news of D-Day June 6th, 1944 Belfast - People crowd together
to read the news of D-Day.

"It was with mingled feelings of pride, joy and determination that citizens of Belfast heard that D -Day had arrived . The news which spread like wildfire, had an electrifying effect on the population. One could sense an atmosphere of grim expectancy and restrained hopefulness. Nowhere was there any sign of foolish, unbridled optimism......
....... during the day the Belfast Telegraph was inundated with telephone calls asking for the latest reports. When boys appeared on the streets with the noon edition they were besieged by pedestrians. Motorists and in some cases tram drivers stopped to buy the papers which were quickly sold out."


The Picture House mirrors D-Day ?
On the Big Screen

In Belfast theatres this message from Sir Basil Brooke was flashed up on the screens - "The invasion of Europe has begun. God speed to our fighting forces and our Allies. May the victory be swift, complete, and glorious"

The cinema listings in the Irish News, on the 6th June 1944, reveal what was playing as D-Day began:-

The Imperial was showing Dixie with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, The Capitol ran with Algiers starring Charles Boyer and Hedy Larmarr, while at the Curzon The Bells of Capistrano featured Gene Autry and Smiley Burnette.

Perhaps the most telling film title was showing at the Picture House - Flight to Freedom, starring Fred MacMurray, Rosalino Russell and Herbert Marshall.

For more news items on the Normandy landings log on to the BBC News online site which also celebrates 60 years of D-Day.

What do you remember about that day in June 1944 ? Where were you and what were your immediate thoughts? Perhaps you were already on one of the ships bound for the beaches of Normandy yourself?

Send us your comments below.



James White - Aug '06
Brilliant true story on "Paddy The Pigeon," many of these birds saved so many lives and the public really don't know or younger generation maybe don't want to know , but if it weren't for these gallant birds, a lot wouldn't be here today, would really appreciate if you could send me the full story on the great "paddy".

Gerard Kirwan - Jan '06
Paddy the putman racing pigeon was a great pigeon to have done this. Is there any more putman racing pigeons around? Ireland or Birmingham uk long distance racing pigeons?


Use the form below to post comments on this article
Your Comments
Your Name (required)
Your Email (optional)

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy