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World War II Carrier Pigeon Mystery: Can you crack the code?

There are always new things discovered about World War II.  I am so lucky to have found my mother’s diaries from 1937-43 and have published them as Home Front Girl:  A Diary of Love, Literature and Growing Up in Wartime America.  But a diary is not so odd as the skeleton of a carrier pigeon!!!

Yes, The New York Times recently reported how a bird skeleton with a coded message has been found in England!

A chimney in a home in Surrey, England, was found in 1982 to hold the remains of a carrier pigeon bearing a World War II coded message. An effort is now under way to find out what it says. From Alan Cowell’s article in The New York Times, November 2, 2012.

As Alan Cowell reports, the skeleton was found in a chimney between “the site of the Allied landing at the Normandy beaches in 1944 and a famous code-breaking center north of London at Bletchley Park.”  Bletchley Park is famous as the site of top-secret code breaking activities.  Read its wartime history here.  The pigeon’s message has not yet been decoded, but it is being worked on!  How wonderful to have this mystery still to tantalize us.

But how valiant the pigeon, 40TW194, was! And its message still cannot be decoded.  See the discussion of the problems decoding this message here. You can help to crack the code, by reading the message here and below.








If you figure this out, contact  the UK Government Communications Headquarters.

Carrier pigeons have  a long and esteemed history, starting with Noah’s release of a pigeon after the flood.  They’ve been used by ancient Romans, Genghis Khan, and in the Siege of Paris in 1870. In World War I, the Germans even strapped cameras to their bellies to take reconnaissance photos until planes took over that duty.  By the end of WWI, France had mobilized 30,000 pigeons for war duty!

This article by Mary Blume gives more heroic details, but I must report this heart-rending detail here:  “[A] brave French pigeon named Le Vaillant was awarded the Ordre de la Nation…Cher Ami, the equally heroic American Black Check Cock carrier pigeon [, who was one] of 600 birds flown by the U.S. Army Signal Corps, … saved the lives of the 77th Infantry Division’s ‘lost battalion’ at Verdun by delivering 12 messages and returning to his loft with a shattered leg after he was shot. He won the Croix de Guerre with Palm and died in 1919 as a result of his wounds.”

Here is Cher Ami (Dear Friend) on display at the Smithsonian Musuem

Imagine, winning a medal!  And the Musée de la Poste in Paris has more information about these brave avian aviators.

From the Musée de la Poste. Source:

You can read more about Paris and the Siege of 1870 and pigeons here.  And be sure to check out my upcoming post on Women Cryptographers in World War II.

Women Cryptographers in World War II

An article in the Austin American-Statesman by Ken Herman tells the wonderful story of two women cryptographers in World War II.  What did cryptographers do?  They had to put messages into code so that the enemy wouldn’t be able to understand.  Helen Nibouar, now 91, is quoted as saying, ““I have to admit I was a little frightened, just thinking how important that was and how responsible I had to be.” She and her fellow cryptographer and friend, Marion Johnson (now 95!!!), were honored in November 2012 at the National Security Agency‘s National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, Maryland.

Here is a picture of Helen today.

Helen Nibouar, age 91, in an article from the Austin American-Statesman, November 2, 2012 by Ken Herman

Nibouar is quoted as being “shocked” that anyone would be interested in what she did during wartime.

Oh, but how fascinating what she and other women and men did during the war!  Especially important are the legions of “unknown” people who worked for the war effort.  All such stories are valuable, indeed invaluable, for the historical record.  Thank you, Helen and Marion, and the countless others, for all you’ve done!

Here is the Enigma Machine at the National Cryptologic Museum.  To learn how it works, click here.

The Enigma Machine at the National Cryptologic Musuem

And, if you are equally intrigued by the concept of the National Cryptologic Museum, check out this page where you can download documents from the World War II era about cipher machines, Western Communication Intelligence and the Holocaust, and Woman and Cryptology, among other fascinating and important topics.  Here there is more about Women and Cryptology.

And be sure to check out my post on Carrier Pigeons who carried coded messages during World War II–and before and since!

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