The Royal Pigeon Racing Association Commemorates the Centenary Since the End of WWI in Whitchurch, Hampshire
WWI ended at 11am on 11 November in 1918. The Royal Pigeon Racing Association is commemorating this centenary by holding an exhibition in conjunction with Graham Burgess, a resident from Whitchurch and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, by highlighting the history of racing pigeons in war time.
Graham is extremely passionate about Whitchurch and the community. For the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Graham collated footage about the town and its history. Part of the purpose of the DVD was to remind the Queen of her visit to Whitchurch and Graham even received a letter written by the Lady-in-Waiting, Jennifer Gordon Lennox, thanking him for the gift on the Queen’s behalf.
Graham organised a number of events and celebrations in various locations to pay tribute to the soldiers from Whitchurch. The events began on Sunday 19 August and included firework bangs representing each man lost. The Sunday before there will be a special meal based on wartime ingredients and designed by Basingstoke College of Technology. Various events will be carried out right up until Remembrance Day.
Finally, on Saturday and Sunday 11 November 2018, an exhibition will be held linking visitors to the Whitchurch soldiers who fought in WWI. The Royal Pigeon Racing Association will also display the important role pigeons played throughout the conflict.
In the afternoon of the Sunday 11 November, pigeons will be released from the grounds of The Silk Mill in Whitchurch opposite to the Old Pigeon House Meadow, carrying messages, re-enacting their journeys from the war. One of the birds will be carrying a message to the Queen at Sandringham Palace. This will be addressed from Eileen Knight, a resident of Whitchurch who received a letter from the Queen when she turned 100 years old.
Pigeons came into their own as carriers during WWI. Radio messages were unreliable meaning both Allied and German forces used pigeons to carry messages and intelligence. Horses drew mobile lofts which acted as the front lines to ensuing battles. Some London double decker buses were even converted into mobile pigeon lofts. The birds were incredibly intelligent as they would have been originally trained to fly home to one particular location however followed the movements of the mobile lofts.
Pigeons from the Royal Loft were also used as carrier pigeons in both World Wars. 32 pigeons were presented with the Dickin Medal including Royal Blue from the Sandringham Estate who was recognised for gallantry in its role of reporting a lost aircraft in 1940.
Ian Evans, CEO of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association comments: “We are honoured to be working with Graham Burgess on his mission to highlight the history of Whitchurch and its people involved in WWI. To hold a special pigeon race to mark the centenary of the end of WWI is an amazing way to also pay tribute to the bravery of all of the animals and individuals involved. We hope the event gains traction and the community come together to celebrate these incredible events organised by Graham.”
History of Whitchurch
Graham Burgess launched the ‘Serving the People’ project to honour the 64 soldiers from Whitchurch who died in conflict. Whitchurch is an extremely special place due to its heritage and historic past and a key visitor attraction on many levels.
The River Test powered the 17th century mill which was once used by Portals to make paper for some of the first British banknotes. The pigeon messages will be on special paper being made by Portals, still active in papermaking.The Whitchurch Silk Mill was built in 1815 and carried on working throughout both World Wars. The mill still weaves silk today. Whitchurch was also home to a number of notable names. Ron Eastman, a Whitchurch resident made the first colour movie which was displayed on TV, a successful author, Richard Adams also lived there, and Lord Denning Master of the Rolls was born and lived there.
In 1949, The Queen (Patron of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association) and the Duke met James Robertson Justice in Fulling Mill and enjoyed the treasures of Whitchurch including fishing, horse riding and falconry.