Flying aces relive D-day exploits of Paddy the pigeon
A pigeon from Northern Ireland which flew vital information from France after the D-Day landings will be commemorated with a re-enactment of his dangerous and historic flight later this month.
Dozens of pigeons will take to the sky to fly the same route as the famous pigeon who was the only Irish animal decorated for bravery during the Second World War.
Fanciers from the UK and Northern Ireland will be asked to release their birds, on a date still to be arranged, in France for a pigeon race that will in effect be a repeat of ‘Paddy's’ trip back to his loft in Hampshire in the record time of 4 hours 50 minutes, 66 years ago.
The move is delighting people in Carnlough, where Paddy was born and bred and is still revered to this day, and where a plaque in his memory is on permanent display on a harbour wall.
“We would love to see a pigeon in the air for every year since 1944,” said Willie Reynolds of Ballymena Homing Pigeon Society, who are planning to make the race an annual event.
“Some of the homing pigeons will be flying back to their lofts in Carnlough, which will be appropriate.”
Research is ongoing in an attempt to pinpoint the exact spot on the Normandy beaches where Paddy commenced his mission.
It is thought the pigeon flew from a place called Carentan in Normandy, but the exact route he took home will never be known.
In the meantime, there will be a Paddy Memorial Day in Larne Arts Centre on Friday September 24, organised by Jenny Caldwell, heritage officer of Larne Borough Council and the town historical society, along with Ballymena HPS.
It will be attended by ex-Irish Army officer Kevin Spring, a fancier who now owns Paddy's Dickin Medal for Bravery — valued at around £10,000 — which he will be showing off to guests.
During the day two pigeons will be released to fly home to Carnlough as a gesture to Paddy who lived to the ripe old age of 11, but never flew again on a dangerous mission.
Watching will be journalist and author Gael Seekamp from Jersey, who has updated her bestselling book on Paddy and will be reading extracts from it to the children.
Paddy, whose Dickin Medal is the animal world's equivalent of the Victoria Cross, came from the Moyleen loft of the late Carnlough fancier Andrew Hughes, who handed him over to the National Pigeon Service in which he was trained for his military career.
He wound up at Ballykelly RAF base from where he was transferred to the American Army who had just arrived in Northern Ireland to prepare for D-Day.
Paddy was with the Americans in Normandy that summer night of June 12 1944, when he was released and set off on his perilous flight back to Hampshire carrying secret information about the Allies’ disposition six days into the invasion that gave them a vital foothold in Nazi-occupied Europe.