Flying heroes: The true story

Valiant, a CGI animated family comedy from Vanguard Animation, tells the story of a little wood pigeon, Valiant, with big dreams. Along with his misfit friends, he joins the elite Royal Homing Pigeon Service during the Second World War, and against all odds, triumphs where others have failed. It is Valiant’s determination that, together with an unbridled courage, turns a little country pigeon into an adventurer and, finally, a hero.

The film is loosely based on the true stories of wartime messenger pigeons, 32 of which were awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal, known as ‘the animals’ Victoria Cross’. The award is only considered on receipt of an official military citation and, to date, all 32 pigeons that earned the right to have the letters ‘DM’ after their names were racing pigeons. They were specially bred for speed, but also possessed incredible stamina and superb navigation skills.

PDSA’s founder Maria Dickin CBE instituted the PDSA Dickin Medal in 1943, to be awarded to animals that displayed conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units in areas of conflict.

Messenger pigeons have been used in wartime for centuries, even in the face of increasingly sophisticated telecommunications equipment. From the outbreak of World War II until VE-Day the RAF were parachuting ‘intelligence’ pigeons onto the Continent with notes asking pro-Allied finders to return the birds with information about the enemy. Of 17,080 pigeons dropped, only 1,708 returned. As the film suggests, many really were wounded by gun-fire or attacked by falcons, which were used by the enemy as interceptors. No bird carried out more than three successful operations.

Kenley Lass DM, was the first pigeon to be used for secret communication from enemy-occupied France. She was parachuted down concealed beneath the overcoat of a special agent, who then carried her for another nine miles on foot across country. After 11 days concealed in a house, Kenley Lass was released, and flew 300 miles to her loft carrying the vital information she had been waiting for. Amazingly, she repeated the mission just four months later.

Read more amazing true stories about the pigeons that won the PDSA Dickin Medal.

The PDSA Dickin Medal awarded to Commando DM in 1945 hit the headlines in November 2004 when it came up for auction at Spink of London. The medal, awarded to Commando after the bird completed three successful covert missions from occupied France in June, August and September 1942, fetched £9,200. Commando had been sent in each time with a special agent, and on two occasions had battled his way through exceptionally adverse weather conditions to deliver the messages.

Marilyn Rydström, PDSA Director General, said: “PDSA is naturally very proud of its wartime heritage. The PDSA Dickin Medal, acknowledged as ‘the animals’ Victoria Cross’, was only ever awarded to animals who behaved with exceptional courage and gallantry. It is time that the story of the pigeons who won the medal became more widely known. We hope the interest generated by Valiant, will encourage children and adults to find out more about these winged heroes.”

Enter PDSA’s Valiant competition by going to the Young PDSA section of the website, and you could win some great prizes!


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