The carrier pigeon (excerpt from Brazen Chariots)

(...)in the first week in November we moved up to a place called Hallequat, south of the road running between Sidi Barrani and Sollum. This was virtually the forming-up point for the brigade for the attack which everybody knew was now imminent, though nobody knew when or where.
(...brigade suffers track damage, relocated to new leaguer positions nearby)

A rather odd thing happened to me at this time. I had been sent out in charge of a small recce party in a 15-cwt. truck to see what the going was like ahead of our area. We had come across a patch of soft sand in which the truck got stuck, and needed a good deal of manhandling to get out. With two or three others I was pushing and heaving at the back of the vehicle, cursing volubly as the wheels spun round kicking up the desert into our eyes and ears, when there was a sudden, soft, fluttering noise in my ear, and I felt a light touch on my back.

I took a casual glance from the corner of my eye, and was amazed to see a pigeon sitting on my shoulder. Nobody else had noticed it, and as I stopped and straightened I put my hand up slowly expecting any second that the bird would take fright and fly off again. Instead it seemed to come willingly into my hand, where it snuggled down contentedly. Only then did I notice the tube of white paper fastened to its leg by a piece of elastic. I called to the others. They gaped when they saw what I was holding, and walked back towards me. I pointed to the piece of paper.

“A carrier pigeon!” said Harry Maegraith. “How the hell did you get hold of that?”

Maegraith was an Australian troop commander in ‘C’ Squadron. We had been in England and Greece together, and when his ancient tank had broken down somewhere in Macedonia he had jumped on the back of mine with a few other bods. We were great friends.

While I gently slid the elastic off the pigeon’s leg, I told them what had happened. There was a strange air of unreality about the whole thing which impressed all of us. As far as I knew we were 10 or 15 miles from the nearest British formation. There was nothing in sight except sand, rock and scrub. What was this mysterious paper that had come fluttering down on to my shoulder from an empty sky above an empty land? A message from some remote patrol lost in the desert? Could it be a German carrier-pigeon with a secret signal from the High Command?

The others clustered round, caught in the mystery of the moment, holding their breath while I unfolded the curled slip. It made a dry, rustling sound that could have been heard twenty yards away. Slowly I opened it out until the penciled message lay revealed. It was in English and said simply: “BUGGER YOU, LEAVE ME ALONE”.

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(Crisp goes on to explain that they never actually found whose pigeon it was, but that he suspected 3 RTR’s technical sergeant, who had all kinds of weird things in his service truck.)

Brazen Chariots is the memoir of Major Robert Crisp’s experiences, Operation Crusader, in Cyrenaica, eastern Libya, 1941.

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