The Pigeon Hero of World War I

Most city-dwellers today consider pigeons a nuisance. Often referred to as “rats with wings,” they are a bird that people love to hate, and are generally considered to be unintelligent and dirty. During World War I, though, the lowly pigeon played a critical role in serving the Allied Forces. One of these birds was credited with saving close to 200 soldiers.

Before the advent and widespread usage of two-way radio, the military had to communicate via wire, which was not always possible on or near a battlefield. During WWI, carrier pigeons were used to courier important messages between planners behind the battle lines and commanders on the field. Messages would be attached to the legs of these birds in small canisters, and then the birds would fly “home” behind the lines to deliver the message.

i.cbc.ca
i.cbc.ca

Cher Ami, which means “dear friend” in French, was the most famous of these birds. He flew 12 important missions over several months in 1918, before being wounded. His last mission, in September of 1918, was in the service of U.S. Major Charles Whittlesey. During the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne, Whittlesey and 500 of his men became trapped and surrounded by enemy forces. After the second day of their predicament, only about 200 of this “lost battalion” were left.

The other American commanders did not know where Whittlesey and his men were, and almost ended up killing the survivors of the group when they dropped shells nearby. Whittlesey sent out two pigeons with messages alerting the Americans to his location, but these birds did not make their deliveries, likely killed by the Germans.

Cher Ami was Whittlesey’s last pigeon. In a desperate last attempt to alert the Allies to his location, he sent the bird out with a message containing their location and a plea to stop dropping shells on them.

The Germans spotted the bird after he took off, and tried to shoot him down. Miraculously, Cher Ami was able to fly higher, outside the range of the enemy guns. He managed to fly 25 miles in 25 minutes, and the message was safely delivered. The lives of the 200 remaining men of Whittlesey’s battalion were saved.

When the bird was found, his true heroism became apparent. He had been hit by German gunfire and was severely wounded. He lost an eye, and the leg carrying the message was almost severed. The leg would not be able to be saved.

Medics worked to save Cher Ami, and the soldiers of the 77th Division carved a wooden leg for him. The French, who the Americans were fighting with during this battle, even awarded the bird one of their highest military honors, the Croix de Guerre. When he was able to travel home to the United States, General Pershing himself saw Cher Ami off on the boat that carried him home.

Cher Ami became a popular war hero, and was featured in newspapers and magazines the world over. Unfortunately, his wounds proved too severe, and he died less than one year after his heroic act. A taxidermist preserved his body, and he can still be seen at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., alongside the French medal that his bravery earned.

Next Article
ADVERTISEMENT
  • Missing Couple Found Frozen After 75 Years

    On August 15, 1942 Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin, a Swiss married couple who were also parents to seven children, walked up to a mountain pasture near Chandolin, Switzerland to feed their cows. This was a rare excursion for the couple to take together, since Francine was often pregnant and could not usually make the climb....

    Read More
  • 27 Contact Lenses Found Lodged in One Woman’s Eye

    The biggest nightmare for wearers of contact lenses came true for one British woman late last year. The 67-year-old went in for cataract surgery at Solihull Hospital in England last November. In addition to the cataracts, she also complained of pain in her right eye, which she assumed was caused by dry eyes or old...

    Read More
  • Was Jane Austen Poisoned?

    In July of 1817, popular novelist Jane Austen died. This writer of such perennial favorites as Pride and Prejudice and Emma was only 41, and she did not have a history of health problems. As medical science was not very advanced in the 1800s, no one knows what killed her, though Addison’s disease and lymphoma...

    Read More
  • The Man Who Tried to Raise the Perfect Wife

    Finding a wife was difficult in the 18th century. There was no online dating, and strict social controls made it difficult for members of the opposite sex to get to know one another. But things were especially hard for a man named Thomas Day, and he came up with a novel, though cruel, way to...

    Read More
  • Giant Iceberg Breaks Free in Antarctica

    Sometime between July 10th and July 12th, a giant iceberg broke free from Antarctica, wreaking havoc on shipping lanes in the area while it breaks up into smaller pieces. It broke off from the Larsen C Ice Shelf, automatically reducing that shelf’s area by 12% when it did so. Larsen C is now at its...

    Read More
  • The Worst Husband in British History

    By all accounts, Mary Eleanor Bowes should have had a happy life. She was born into one of the wealthiest families in England, as her father was the wealthy mine owner George Bowes. She was an only child, and she was much cherished by her parents. However, when her father unexpectedly died in 1760 when...

    Read More
  • The Papin Sisters and France’s Most Gruesome Murder Case

    Life seemed to be against the Papin sisters, Christine and Lea, from the time of their births, in 1905 and 1911 respectively. They were born into a highly dysfunctional family. Their mother reportedly had affairs, and their father was an abusive alcoholic. Their mother never showed them any affection, and was so mentally unstable that...

    Read More
  • The Legend of Spring-Heeled Jack

    Despite the many advances in science and industry that took place in Victorian England, that time period was till full of superstition and paranormal belief. Many people still believed in fairies, phrenology and spiritualism- all things that have since been proven false. Quite a few people also believed in a devil-man called Spring-Heeled Jack. The...

    Read More