In order to pay tribute to the many carrier pigeons used during war, Jean Boucault, a bird mimicker, has embarked on an ambitious project to build a horse-drawn pigeon loft based on those used during the Great War
In 1915, as stalemate and trench warfare set in, communication became became particularly important and consequently homing pigeons were use to carry encoded messages slipped into tiny cylinders attached to their legs. “In the combat zone, telephone lines were often severed and signals didn't always work,” explained Jean Boucault. “It was difficult for High Command, located to the rear, to clearly understand what was happening on the battlefield.” This was what made the carrier pigeon particularly important.
Long Used by the Military
Its military usage does not date merely from the First World War. The Romans had well realised the bird's potential for transmitting messages, but this tradition did peak during the First World War with 30,000 pigeons being used by the belligerent armies on all theatres of war. This little bird was highly reliable for short distance messages, especially due to its unequalled sense of direction! It managed to pass through the barrages of fire, smoke and even gas to reach its loft.
Birds, a Companion in War
It is this history, but also the strong tradition for pigeon rearing in the North of France that Jean Boucault and his company 'Les Chanteurs d'Oiseaux', based at Abbeville wanted to remember. “As part of the commemorations of the centenary, our company began to think about existing links between our region, birds and men,” he said.
The company looked into the French and Commonwealth accounts that soldiers had sent to their families. “What hit us the most, was how the soldiers described the birds. Some of these young men from the Commonwealth had never heard this type of birdsong before. What we remarked upon was that birds helped men to mark time, but also to provide them with a little bit of life in the horrible world of war.”
A Pigeon Loft like during the War
The second phase of the project consisted of the construction of a horse-drawn pigeon loft, created in partnership with the Bernavillois District Council. “It is a combination of several models of pigeon loft, studied using period postcards. We decided to complete this project for 2016 because the Battle of the Somme marked a turning point in the development of mobile pigeon lofts.”
A cabinetmaker was entrusted with the construction of the pigeon loft, while the interior work was carried out by students of the Bois L'Eau College of Bernaville. “First, a lesson about the role of the carrier pigeon during the war was given in class, and then the students worked to models.”
The pigeon loft, which received a grant from the Somme Departmental Council, is completely incorporated into a show created by the company. After imitations of bird calls, followed by readings, the pigeons are released. Specialised in acrobatic flights, the pigeons are not just a great spectacle but also pay tribute to their ancestors. The company wants spectators to look up into the skies, rather than down to the ground like in the majority of commemorative events. And for this, Jean Boucault is convinced that “only a bird will do”.
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