Carrier pigeon’s secret WWI message found over a century later
Carrier pigeons boasted a 95% success rate of delivery across Europe during the First World War, according to the US Army’s Signal Corps.
Luckily for historians, one of those occasionally undelivered messages ended up in a field in eastern France, where a retired couple discovered it more than 100 later.
Spotted while the pair were on a walk through a field in the Alsace region, whose border is hugged by Germany, the tiny aluminum capsule, hardly bigger than a thimble, has been called a “super rare” finding.
Inside the capsule, a “kind of tracing paper” bore a message in an unusual sort of German Gothic script, according to Dominique Jardy, curator of the Linge Memorial Museum in Orbey, who turned to a language expert to analyze the note. Jardy told Le Parisien that the note is dated 1910 or 1916. The year is ambiguous because of illegibility and historical context. (World War I lasted from 1914 to 1918.)
“Platoon Potthof receives fire as they reach the western border of the parade ground, platoon Potthof takes up fire and retreats after a while,” the message reads, according to a report in the Guardian. The message continues, “In Fechtwald half a platoon was disabled. Platoon Potthof retreats with heavy losses.”
The message came from an infantry soldier based in Ingersheim, about 14 miles north of Stuttgart in western Germany, and discusses German maneuvers in a region that has since become part of France.
Jardy said he had never seen anything like this artifact during his 40 years of study on French-German warfare. He plans to showcase the letter and capsule at his museum, which is dedicated to the battle for Le Linge in the Vosges mountains in 1915. The battle has been called one of the war’s bloodiest. He believes the capsule was probably buried in mud and later rose back to the surface, as many military grenades and shells do.
The note also indicated there were three other copies of the message carried via homing pigeon, presumably to cover for the one found more than a century later.
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