Did You Know? Homing pigeons played an important role in World War II! Here are just a few of the remarkable, and true, things I uncovered during my research for THE LONG FLIGHT HOME.
During World War II, British Services enlisted over 200,000 homing pigeons, including 16,000 that were parachuted into German-occupied France.
The National Pigeon Service, a volunteer civilian organization in Britain, delivered over 200,000 war pigeons to British Services between 1939 and 1945.
Source Columba (a.k.a. Operation Columba) was the code name for air-dropping 16,000 homing pigeons in German-occupied France as a method for locals to provide intelligence to Britain.
During World War II, the Royal Air Force dropped 16,000 homing pigeons over German-occupied Europe, parachuted in small baskets containing paper, pencil, and a small tube—attached to the pigeon’s leg—for storing a message.
In 2012, a man renovating an old house in Surrey, England discovered the remains of a homing pigeon along with a tiny capsule containing a coded message—one that has yet to be deciphered by code breakers around the world even today.
The Dickin Medal, instituted in the United Kingdom to recognize the gallantry of animals in World War II, was awarded 54 times—32 of the recipients were pigeons.
By delivering critical messages, homing pigeons have saved thousands of human lives during both World Wars.
Inspired by fascinating, true, yet little-known events during World War II, The Long Flight Home is a testament to the power of courage in our darkest hours—a moving, masterfully written story of love and sacrifice.
It is September 1940—a year into the war—and as German bombs fall on Britain, fears grow of an impending invasion. Enemy fighter planes blacken the sky around the Epping Forest home of Susan Shepherd and her grandfather, Bertie. After losing her parents to influenza as a child, Susan found comfort in raising homing pigeons with Bertie. All her birds are extraordinary to Susan—loyal, intelligent, beautiful—but none more so than Duchess. Hatched from an egg that Susan incubated in a bowl under her grandfather’s desk lamp, Duchess shares a special bond with Susan and an unusual curiosity about the human world.
Thousands of miles away in Buxton, Maine, a young crop-duster pilot named Ollie Evans has decided to travel to Britain to join the Royal Air Force. His quest brings him to Epping and to the National Pigeon Service, where Susan is involved in a new, covert assignment. Codenamed Source Columba, the mission aims to air-drop hundreds of homing pigeons in German-occupied France. Many will not survive. Those that do make the journey home to England can convey crucial information on German troop movements—and help reclaim the skies from the Luftwaffe.
The friendship between Ollie and Susan deepens as the mission date draws near. When Ollie’s plane is downed behind enemy lines, both know how remote the chances of reunion must be. Yet Duchess’s devotion and her singular sense of duty will become an unexpected lifeline, relaying messages between Susan and Ollie as war rages on—and proving, at last, that hope is never truly lost.