Sunday, November 8, 2009


Most Canadians have heard of the Dieppe Raid of WWII. It was a disaster, resulting in the deaths of over 900 Canadians. It's mostly remembered here because the disaster was, largely, Canada's disaster, though smaller numbers of British and American troops also fought. It is also remembered as a lesson in what not to do on D-Day.
I had the experience of visiting Dieppe last year, and rather appropriately, it was a cold, grey day with crashing waves. The town is really lovely, but the beach (again rather appropriately) was completely abandoned.
The picture above is from the beach, and may give you an idea of what it's like when it's windy and wet. Imagine flying through that!
Beachcomber was a pigeon kept by the Canadian army, probably one of many. He was chosen (most likely by chance) to send word back to Britain of the disasterous raid.
Pigeons are good at that job because they have an incredibly strong homing instinct. Beachcomber followed that instinct, flying over choppy ocean, past looming cliffs, surrounded by gunfire.

Once he'd managed to survive the bullets flying through the air, he had to cross the English Channel. Pigeons aren't designed to fly over the ocean, but like many other war homing pigeons, Beachcomber managed to get across.
Finally he reached his home perch back in England. It was the first news anyone in Britain had heard about the Dieppe raid. Hopefully Beachcomber got a lot of food and a soft nest for the night.

For some reason, it wasn't until two years later that Beachcomber was awarded the Dickin Medal for his efforts. The official description said:
"For bringing the first news to this country of the landing at Dieppe, under hazardous conditions in September 1942, while serving with the Canadian Army."

After that, details get vague and I'm not sure what happened to Beachcomber. I hope that he got the same fate as many other Dickin Medal recipients - he got to retire to a nice farm, and become a breeder for new generations of racing pigeons.

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