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14 December 2012

Valhalla of Famous Army Pigeons

As a brief addendum to last week’s post for the Social Sciences blog to coincide with my selection of the RAF Pigeon Service Manual as the Library’s 'item of the week', I felt it would be worth reporting briefly on some issues of The New Yorker that Matthew recently acquired to fill some early gaps in our collection. 

In the issue for 10 November 1934 there is a short article entitled 'War Birds' in the 'Talk of the Town' section about a weekend spent at Camp Monmouth, New Jersey - the headquarters of the pigeon branch of U.S. Signal Corps. The purpose of the visit was an Armistice Day piece on two ageing war veterans: namely, two pigeons Mocker and Spike, both of whom could boast citations from the War Department for heroic work in France during the First World War.

Despite seeing active service in France, this pair of birds managed to live to almost double the normal life expectancy for pigeons, Mocker reported as aged seventeen years old, and Spike not far behind at sixteen-and-a-half. It appears Mocker and Spike had spent a portion of the intervening years adding to the Signal Corps pigeon populations, laying claim to at least ten generations of offspring.

After their passing, the Signal Corps intended to send them to the Smithsonian Institution; as the correspondent put it, the 'Valhalla of famous army pigeons', and the resting place of feathery comrades President Wilson and Cher Ami. Indeed, the latter’s story is the subject of a children’s book by Robert Burleigh Fly, Cher Ami, fly!: The pigeon who saved the lost battalion,New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2008 [BL. Shelfmark: YK.2009.b.6433]. 

The Library’s Collection of print copies of The New Yorker are held at BL. Shelfmark: P.903/858 and are consultable in our Reading Rooms, and soon the new acquisitions will also be available for consultation. Until then, the microfilm surrogate can be used at BL. Shelfmark: Mic.B.64/1-45.  

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