British intelligence officers are trying to decipher the meaning of a secret message sent during World War II. The message was found in a red capsule attached to the skeleton of a carrier pigeon that sat preserved in the chimney of a home in England for decades. The coded message, written by Sergeant W. Scott, reportedly spells out a specific location, but so far officials are mum on the details.
“We cannot comment until the code is broken,” a spokesman for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Britain told the New York Times. “And then we can determine whether it’s secret or not.”
Resident David Martin found the pigeon’s remains in 1982, and while it's unclear why the message has been ignored for so long, historians are now paying close attention. I09 reported that Martin’s home is only five miles away from a rendezvous point designated by British field marshal Bernard Law Montgomery at Reigate.
The National Code Center at Bletchley Park issued a press release speculating that this bird, called 40TW194, was of a special importance.
“We have more than 30 messages from WWII carrier pigeons in our exhibition, but not one is in code. The message Mr. Martin found must be highly top secret. The aluminum ring found on the bird’s leg tells us it was born in1940 and we know it’s an Allied Forces pigeon because of the red capsule it was carrying -- but that’s all we know,” curator Colin Hill said.
“We suspect it was flying back to Monty’s HQ or Bletchley Park from Nazi-occupied Normandy during the invasion. I can only presume it became exhausted and attempted to rest on an open chimney -- where it valiantly perished.”
While the use of pigeons throughout WWII isn’t discussed in history classes as often as Pearl Harbor or Stalingrad, the birds carried important strategic information. An estimated 250,000 pigeons like 40TW194 were used throughout the war, making them a favorite target for enemy snipers and code breakers.
The capsule 40TW194 was carrying is known to have been used by top-level European spies, according to Australia’s ABC News. The message was addressed to “XO2,” thought to be the code used for bombing commanders. The mystery is so enticing because the code was duplicated and sent twice, indicating a high level of importance.
The Bletchley Park press release said dogs, horses and cats were also used to relay messages between military staff. For their place in history, pigeons were given 32 awards in the late 1940s. GI Joe, the name given to an American pigeon, saved 1,000 human lives when it landed in a British village about to be bombed.