Orders, Decorations and Medals (7 April 1994)

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Date of Auction: 7th April 1994

Sold for £5,800

Estimate: £6,000 - £12,000

The Dickin Medal or 'Pigeon V.C.' awarded to the famous pigeon 'Ruhr Express' for his epic flight from the Ruhr pocket in April 1945, with a German Army message of great importance

DICKIN MEDAL, bronze 'P.D.S.A. For Gallantry. We also serve,' the reverse inscribed 'N.P.S. 43 29018/Ruhr Express/R.A.F./Ruhr/April 1945/AFMC 1052/No.22' in a glazed display case with the actual pigeon, wearing its National Pigeon Service numbered leg ring, professionally mounted by Rowland Ward ofLondon, together with a life size oil painting of 'Ruhr Express' depicted with two other distinguished pigeons, 'Agnes' and 'Per Ardua', by E.H. Windred, signed and dated 1945, good condition, a rare and unusual lot

Footnote

Ruhr Express, a dark chequer cock, was bred and hatched at R.A.F. Detling in 1943 and allocated National Pigeon Service ring number 43.29018. Having undergone training at Detling, he performed 'two years consistently good work' in Air Sea Rescue and intercommunication service before being selected in early April 1945 for a special operation behind enemy lines.

On 31 March 1945 General Dwight D Eisenhower issued a proclamation to the German forces fighting within their own borders urging them to lay down their arms. Next day elements of the First and Third U.S. Armies rendezvoused at Lippstadt encircling Field Marshal Walther Von Model's Army Group B in the Ruhr Pocket. Hitler however imposing his will through the medium of the S.S. and Gestapo was determined that Germany would fight to the last and that the siege of the Ruhr must be stubbornly contested. Thus on 3 April American forces commenced the reduction of the Ruhr Pocket with an attack by Lt-General Raymond S. McLain's XIX Corps. After Von Model had made two abortive attempts to break out of the encirclement, it became clear that a German defeat of colossal proportions was both imminent and inevitable. Therefore it was decided to employ any possible means including the use of carrier pigeons to bring about a swift conclusion to the situation which otherwise promised to be a protracted and very bloody affair. Accordingly Ruhr Express, or ring number 43.29018 as he was then known, was taken from his loft and installed in one of the circular cartons, suspended from a two-foot square diameter silk parachute, used to drop British racing pigeons into enemy occupied territory, and placed with a number of other birds aboard an R.A.F. aircraft destined for a run over the Ruhr Pocket.

On 11 April the British pigeons were parachuted into the German perimeter. According to The Story of Ruhr Express published in ‘All-British Pigeon Racing Gazette’, the German 'storm trooper who found his carton considered eating him. Eventually however 'cupidity overcame hunger' and the 'storm trooper' handed in the live bird at the local command post so that he might receive 'the lavish reward paid to those who surrendered British racing pigeons', and in return was handed a receipt dated '11th April 1945.' Now, hundreds of miles from home and held at enemy headquarters, Ruhr Express was about to play his part in the ultimate Allied victory in Northwest Europe. The Germans finding themselves increasingly hard pressed began to think of capitulation and Ruhr Express was duly released carrying with him 'very valuable information' that was 'considered to have had a direct influence on the progress of the war at that critical time.'

On 13 April, Ruhr Express 'homed' having flown 300 miles in record time, arriving at his loft on top of a War Office requisitioned building in Piccadilly. The flight of Ruhr Express was remarkable in pigeon racing circles in that he, like other Dickin Medal winners, was a 'single up', i.e. released on his own unlike birds in races. The day after Ruhr Express reached London, General Omar Bradley launched a local attack which split the Ruhr Pocket in two. On the 16th the eastern half collapsed and by the 18th the entire garrison of some 325,000 men including thirty general officers had surrendered. I

n June 1945, with the war in Europe won, Ruhr Express was recommended by a selection committee, which included the Chief of the Air Ministry Pigeon Service, and duly decorated with the Dickin Medal, becoming one of only thirty-one pigeon recipients of the rarely awarded 'Animal VC.' The citation reads: ‘After 2 years' consistently good work in A.S.R. and emergency intercommunication service this pigeon was dropped by parachute within the enemy lines more than 300 miles from base and brought very valuable information in the best time recorded in this operation. One of the best performances of its kind on record 13th April, 1945 Ruhr 'pocket'.’

Later the same year Ruhr Express became the subject of a painting by the bird artist E.H.Windred, and in September 1945, he was put up for auction with his medal at the PDSA (People's Dispensary for the Sick Animals) Show held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. His speed, endurance and potential for breeding purposes ensured the then world record price of £420, which easily outstripped the previous record of £225 that had stood since 1924. The successful bidders were Messrs. S. & D. Bishop of Weybridge and the proceeds were donated to the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund.


Sources:
'Pigeons in Two World Wars', Lt-Col. A.H. Osman, Maj. W.H. Osman & Colin Osman, reprinted 1976.
'They Also Serve', Dorothea St. Hill Bourne, 1947.
'Crusade in Europe', Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1949.
'The Story of Ruhr Express', published in 'All-British Pigeon Racing Gazette'.
Verbal information supplied by Rick Osman of The Racing Pigeon Publishing Co. Ltd.