WITH remembrance day falling on Sunday, November 14, I thought it might be a good idea to mention some of the animals that also served with our armed forces.

In more modern times the messenger pigeon has been used to great effect during wartime.

In both the first and second world wars the pigeon has saved thousands of human lives by carrying important messages across enemy lines.

Pigeons were used on ships, aircraft and by ground forces around the globe. At the outbreak of World War two 7,000 of Britain’s pigeon fanciers gave their pigeons to the war effort to act as message carriers and so it was that the National Pigeon Service was formed.

Pigeons were decorated and even buried with military honour.

The Dickens Medal was instituted in 1943 to honour the work of animals in war, recognised for their outstanding act of bravery and devotion to duty.

It soon became the animals’ Victoria Cross and was awarded 54 times between 1943-1949. 32 pigeons received the medal, 18 dogs, three horses and a cat called Simon who served on HMS Amethyst during the Yangtse incident.

The cat was wounded, but continued to defend the ship’s stores from rats.

Messenger pigeon Winkie was the first Dickens medal recipient. On February 28, 1942, a British Beaufort bomber was forced down in the North Sea. Winkie was thrown free of her on-board container, wings clogged by oily water, she flew to the Scottish coast 129 miles away. Meanwhile, the bomber crew huddled in a dinghy shivering from the cold.

Shortly before dawn, Winkie arrived in Scotland and a code tied to her leg helped lead the rescue team to the downed plane. The crew later gave a dinner in London to Winkie and her owner in appreciation of her life saving fly.