Pigeons in the Trenches: animals, communications technologies and the British Expeditionary Force, 1914-1918

Gervase Phillips

Abstract


Having rejected their use before the war, the British Expeditionary Force established a Carrier Pigeon Service as a pragmatic response to the difficulties of maintaining frontline communications on the fire-swept battlefields of France and Flanders. The success of the service is a powerful illustration of the significant, if largely unheralded, role played by animals in modern warfare. It serves too, to warn against a tendency to over-emphasise the impact of the technologically-innovative in the writing of military history. Carrier pigeons may have been an ‘old’ technology, but, during the positional warfare of 1915-17, they were acknowledged to be of more practical utility for units in combat than wireless sets.1


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