The story of Dickin Medal winner Winkie, the carrier pigeon, saving the lives of crashed aircrew in World War Two fascinated Year Five and Year Six children from St Teilo’s RC School, Tenby when they visited Carew Cheriton Control Tower recently.
The children from St.Teilo’s School watched in awe as they were “locked” into the Control Tower’s main operations room while the Museum’s President, John Brock M.B.E. carefully took Winkie from her wicker basket and then showed them an actual message that had been tied to a pigeon’s leg during the war.
Although “Winkie”, a blue chequered hen carrier pigeon, was actually based at RAF Leuchars, Fife, many pilots taking off from RAF Carew Cheriton during the war took with them locally reared carrier pigeons they could release to fly home to the South Pembrokeshire airbase if they were forced to crash land.
The Carew birds were raised by pigeon fancier Capt. Jack Howell of Tenby who became well known locally for scaling the cliffs around South Pembrokeshire to reduce the population of the pigeon’s main predator by replacing Peregrine Falcon eggs with substitute sham eggs that would never hatch. Such was the threat to carrier pigeons returning home with messages that £1 rewards were paid to anyone handing in the tail feathers of Peregrines they had killed.
Maria Dickin C.B.E., founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), established the Dickin Medal award for any animal displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty whilst serving with British Empire armed forces or civil emergency services.
The first recipients of the award were three pigeons, serving with the Royal Air Force, all of whom contributed to the recovery of air crew from ditched aircraft during the Second World War. Between 1943 and 1949 the medal was awarded 54 times; to 32 pigeons, 18 dogs, 3 horses and a cat, to acknowledge actions of gallantry.
Winkie was the second animal to receive the Dickin Medal. She was on a British Bristol Beaufort Bomber when it crashed into the North Sea on 23 February 1942 after being badly damaged by enemy fire following a mission to Norway. The crew did not have time to radio an accurate position before ditching but they were able to set Winkie free and she flew 120 miles home to Broughty Ferry, where her owner, George Ross, discovered the exhausted pigeon. He alerted the airbase at RAF Leuchars in Fife and a search and rescue mission was launched.