Driving from Llangarron to Welsh Newton, the lane slowly rises until it reaches its peak. If you ever get the chance, stop the car, get out and take it all in. Here, the green patchwork blanket of Herefordshire is laid out in all its glory. As it happens, it’s a great spot to see hares too (and at least one leveret on one memorable occasion). It is also the same spot I have seen a man leaning on the gate, his car parked squashed up against the hedge. At his feet is a wicker basket. Inside are his racing pigeons. I’ve watched him as he carefully unbuckles the basket and lifts the lid. A mass of feathers and flapping wings, and the pigeons are released. Often miles from home, these birds nearly always find their way back to their loft. An incredible skill when you come to think about it.
It is the pigeon’s natural homing abilities that makes them highly effective as messengers, especially during WWII, when they were a crucial means of communication. During the war there was even a factory in Monmouth that made parachutes for pigeons! No, seriously, it did! (Visit Monmouth Museum for more information on this little-known pigeon fact). Miniature parachutes were attached to containers carrying pigeons. There were then dropped behind enemy lines in France. The hope was sympathisers would find our feathered friends and thereby send information back to the Allies in the UK.
In his famous diaries, country clergyman, the Rev Robert Francis Kilvert, who ministered to parishes near Hay, including Bredwardine, eulogised about rural life on the Welsh borders. Letter post was an extraordinary effective means of communication then, but there were other means too. Writing about the Siege of Paris in September 1870 in his diaries, he recorded a change in the mode of mail delivery: ‘How odd, all the news and letters we got from Paris now coming by balloons and carrier pigeons’.
In our previous film, Chewing the Cud, we interviewed the delightful Ken and Daisy. In the post-WWII years, they kept a market garden at their home in Wellington. During the week, Ken worked at an office in Hereford, from where he would receive orders for garden produce on the telephone. However, as they were yet to have a telephone installed at their home, the quickest way to relay the order was by via pigeon post. It worked every time, efficient and reliable.
Which brings us in a long and rambling way to the Derek Evans’ magnificent cuttings files. I love them, pages and pages of snapshots of a community in all of its ordinariness and extraordinariness, right there in newspaper clippings. And what do we find from 1962? That’s right, a pigeon story. In November of that year, pigeon communications were still proving to be highly effective. Young footballer Geoffrey Watkins, used his pigeon, Pegasus, (also the name of Geoffrey's team name) to let his mother know the result of his Saturday afternoon football games to ‘enable her to have tea ready for the players’. That’s it. Not much more information is offered. Simple, charming and delightful. What an amazing young boy. Where is Geoffrey today? Perhaps someone could let us know - by pigeon post perhaps.
By Marsha O'Mahony