Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Exciting new project gives kids a bird's eye view of WW1 and 2

Students at Sir Robert Hitcham’s Primary School
in Suffolk write their secret wartime message.
Do something special for this year's centenary of World War 1 with an innovative interactive session demonstrating the extraordinary role pigeons played in Britain's victory by carrying secret messages home from the battlefields.

Carrier pigeons played a vital role in both World War 1 and 2 as they proved a reliable method of sending and receiving messages from the battlefields - in fact, their delivery success rate was a whopping 95%! 

Just in time for this year's centenary of WW1, a new educational project has been launched to offer schoolchildren across the UK the opportunity to learn about the pigeons' important and dangerous work.

The project, dubbed 'Secret Messages', will teach children how to write a simple coded message and demonstrate how pigeons carried them during the wars.

Pigeons in the war
A student from Sir Robert Hitcham's holds
the homing pigeon before it is released.
During World War II, over a quarter of a million pigeons were donated by British fanciers to help in the war effort. Once the war was over, pigeon racing was resumed, however their contribution to the war effort did not go unnoticed, with 32 of the 62 Dickin medals awarded to date going to carrier pigeons.

The very first pigeon to win the Dickin medal was Royal Blue who won the medal 'for being the first pigeon in this war to deliver a message from a forced landed aircraft on the continent while serving with the RAF in October 1940'. Royal Blue was donated by the King, illustrating the Royal families’ strong connection with pigeon racing since the late 1890s. To this day, there is a loft at Sandringham and Her Majesty the Queen is now a patron of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association.

British history has seen many patrons who strove to make our country a better and safer place. However, many forget that the humble homing pigeon played an enormous role in emergencies during both the World Wars and still give great benefits to fanciers today.

Donna Beard, who delivers the lessons to the schoolchildren, said: “We have had a really positive response to taking pigeons into schools in the past, which is why we feel that the Secret Messages project will be of great value to children and their teachers alike. Children enjoying handling the birds and learning to write their own secret messages will help to bring the importance of these birds’ contribution. What a great tribute to all involved in WW1 and WW2.”

How the Secret Messages project works
  1. Pupils write their secret message on a piece of paper. This could be a simple message using simple Caesar cipher. This could be further developed by generating a message using a virtual Enigma Machine Emulator. 
  2. Pupils place their message into a canister attached to the pigeon’s leg.
  3. Pupils are taught how to hold the pigeon and then release their bird from an experienced pigeon fancier. Soldiers would have had to learn this skill.
  4. The homing pigeon is released and sets off for home carrying the message back to the code breakers at Kingsmead School.
  5. When the bird arrives home the message is taken from the canister and the message is decoded as fast as possible by a team of code breakers. 
  6. The decoded message along with the original coded message is photographed by a smartphone or iPad/tablet and emailed to the person or school. 
  7. Following the experience, pupils can research a range of different investigations and win some fantastic prizes.
Sounds exciting? Get your school involved!
Schools are able to apply to for an experienced handler to visit with a small team of homing pigeons. The Secret Messages project is available to all children of all ages in the UK and is a free service.

For more information or to book a Secret Messages session for your school, visit secretmessages.org.uk.

PLUS! Visit flyingbacktonature.com to view and download a range of teaching resources and lesson plans on pigeons, secret messages and World War 1.

Donna helps students release their bird and send
their secret message on its way!

Secret Messages was launched on July 8th 2014. The project is a collaboration between the Midlands National Flying Club and the Royal Pigeon Racing Association.

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