Con McGrath tells the story of Paddy the Pigeon – Irish Hero of the D-Day Landings who was awarded The Dickin Medal – the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross
In September 2009, the BBC reported that “one of World War II’s smallest war heroes” was to be honoured with the unveiling of a plaque on the harbour wall in Carnlough, Co. Antrim. The ‘small’ hero so referred to by the BBC was not a man or woman of small stature but rather a pigeon called Paddy. A rather heroic little bird in fact, who actually took part in the D-Day landings of June 1944. Now in 2009, 65 years after that tremendous military endeavourer, Paddy was having a memorial put up in his honour, close to his former home in the north of Ireland.
“An Irish pigeon trained in England by a Scotsman with a Welsh assistant”, was how one newspaper described the pre-war life of Paddy.
Paddy was raised by Captain Andrew Hughes in Carnlough, Co. Antrim. During the war years, Captain Hughes handed over several of his pigeons to be trained for services with the Forces.
By such Paddy joined thousands of other racing birds who were trained and drafted to RAF Hurn in Hampshire, England, for military service.
Paddy was given the number NPS 43. 9451 and assigned to the air-sea rescue unit. Soon he attracted the attention of the authorities, being described by one handler as having ‘exceptional intelligence’. Then, impressing top military brass with his flying in the Air-Sea rescue units, Paddy was seconded to the United States First Army for undercover missions during the upcoming Normandy Landings.
During, as well as after, the invasion, the Americans intended to use a number of British-trained birds for secret communications. The Allies reckoned they could not use radio communication for fear of interception by the Germans. While the birds were considered more secure than radio communications, their likelihood of success was not a guarantee.
In fact the Nazis had prepared for the possible Allied use of pigeons – by having German-trained falcons deployed to intercept Paddy and his comrades.