b. ? d. ?
DATE OF DM ACTION: 06/06/1944 Normandy.
Gustav, of all the pigeons to be awarded the Dickin Medal, holds the recognition of the Imperial War Museum, as the greatest to have served his country. Gustav (or NPS.42.31066) was a grizzled cock bred and trained by Frederick Jackson from Cosham, Hampshire. Gustav’s “wife” named Betty, also served in the National Pigeon Service in World War II.
Gustav began his career in Belgium working for the resistance fighters relaying secret messages from the continent back to his handler, Sergeant Harry Halsey, back in the UK. During this time, he built up a reputation for consistency and reliabiliity when returning to his loft with messages. For this he was selected for a most important mission. Prior to the Alliied invasion of Normandy on 6th June 1944, he was one of six pigeons loaned to the Reuters news correspondant aboard an Allied warship. The correspondant, Montague Taylor, was to use the birds to send messages back to mainland Britain to advise how the D-Day landings were going.
Following the Normandy landings, Gustav was released by Taylor to send news back to the UK with the message, “We are just 20 miles or so off the beaches. First assault troops landed 0750. Signal says no interference from enemy gunfire on beach… Steaming steadily in formation. Lightnings, Typhoons, Fortresses crossing since 0545. No enemy aircraft seen.” Gustav traveled the 150 miles (240 km) to his loft at RAF Thorney Island in five hours and sixteen minutes, while facing a headwind of up to 30 mph (48 km/h), where his handler Sgt Harry Halsey received him. Gustav’s message was the first word of the invasion to reach the British mainland, due to the fleet undergoing radio silence at the time. Later that day, fellow pigeon Paddy became the first pigeon released to return to the British mainland with news of success of the landings.
For this act, he was awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery, considered to be the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. He was presented with his medal on 27 November 1944, by Mrs A. V. Alexander, the wife of the First Lord of the Admiralty. He was one of thirty two pigeons awarded the medal who carried messages during the Second World War.
Gustav died after the war in an accident, when someone cleaning his pigeon loft accidentally stepped on him. The story of wartime messenger pigeons such as Gustav were made into the 2005 animated film Valiant, the same year that Gustav’s Dickin Medal went on display at the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth, Hampshire.
For delivering the first message from the Normandy beaches from a ship off the beachhead while serving with the RAF on June 6 1944.
BURIAL LOCATION: UNKNOWN.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: D-DAY MUSEUM, PORTSMOUTH, HAMPSHIRE.