It's a real coo as 'unbreakable' war code is cracked with help from Portland pigeon expert

Mystery solved: Neville Walbridge with the coded message

The remains of the pigeon which was carrying the message

First published in News Dorset Echo: Photograph of the Author by

IT’S a real coo. Portland pigeon fancier Neville Walbridge has helped crack a coded message from the Second World War.

Mr Walbridge, 74, has now received a decoded version of the 1944 message, which was found strapped to the leg of the remains of a carrier pigeon.

Last month the Echo reported that Mr Walbridge persuaded Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) to delve into the mystery of the bird’s message, which was found in a blocked chimney in Surrey.

The intelligence agency recruited Canadian researchers the Lakefield Heritage Research to decode it.

What was originally thought to be an unbreakable code has now been partially cracked using a First World War artillery code book.

Weston resident Mr Walbridge said: “I thought someone would come up with it sooner or later.

“After the war all the code books at Bletchley Park and the computers had to be destroyed. We accepted that. But I thought there would be a way to do it.”

Mr Walbridge, a former government worker, said he was pleased to get assistance from across the pond to crack the code. He added: “The Canadian researchers had someone’s father or uncle who had a code book and was able to use it.”

The message was sent by 27-year-old Lancashire paratrooper Sergeant William Stott who was parachuted into occupied Normandy.

He was killed in action a few weeks after sending the message.

It is believed he was sent there to assess the strength of the German occupation in that area.

Researcher Gord Young, of Peterborough, Ontario, said: “We have been able to unravel most but not all of the so-called unbreakable code of the pigeon remains in the chimney. The message is indeed breakable.”

Sgt Stott was in the Lancashire Fusiliers and sent the message by carrier pigeon to HQ Bomber Command at RAF High Wycombe.

Sgt Scott was telling the UK that he was updating as required and was requesting information after being parachuted behind enemy lines early in the morning.

Other parts of the code are a bit more confusing and will require further deciphering.

Mr Young said: “Maybe these are ‘fillers’ just to confuse the Germans or anyone else who might have got the message. We have written to the Canadian War Museum to see if they can find somebody who understands artillery short forms.”

Sgt Stott is buried in Ranville War Cemetery in Normandy.

* THIS is what Canadian Lakefield Heritage Research thought Sgt Stott, was saying by code.
“Artillery observer at ‘K’ Sector, Normandy. Requested headquarters supplement report. Panzer attack – blitz. West Artillery Observer Tracking Attack.
Lt Knows extra guns are here. Know where local dispatch station is. Determined where Jerry’s headquarters front posts. Right battery headquarters right here.
Found headquarters infantry right here. Final note, confirming, found Jerry’s whereabouts. Go over field notes. Counter measures against Panzers not working. Jerry’s right battery central headquarters here. Artillery observer at ‘K’ sector Normandy. Mortar, infantry attack panzers.
Hit Jerry’s Right or Reserve Battery Here. Already know electrical engineers headquarters. Troops, panzers, batteries, engineers, here. Final note known to headquarters.

Comments (8)

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12:55pm Sat 15 Dec 12

portlandboy says...

Well done Wappy, you must have enough stories for a book by now!

Pity the Ohec reporter lost the plot of her her own story when thinking up the headline.
Well done Wappy, you must have enough stories for a book by now! Pity the Ohec reporter lost the plot of her her own story when thinking up the headline. portlandboy
  • Score: 0

9:07am Sun 16 Dec 12

Tolkny says...

In our news obsessed times I am surprised this report has almost been completely missed by national media.

I half heard it at the end of a Radio 4 8am paper review. I think it is in the Independent on Sunday but the story generally seems majorly under reported.

I think it is fascinating, and interesting the code books are said to have been destroyed. I cannot see why as equally large 2secrets2 are kept confidential and then released.

The story about how the Canadian WW1 code was discovered is also interesting, I suspect there is more that can yet been reported.

I wonder how prominent it was in Dorset Echo printed and on line reports as it has attracted very few comments here.

Yet it does seem as if Dorset Echo broke the story. I am surprised it has not been picked up by local BBC radio news, yet when I searched it on BBC website nothing was found, maybe I just used the wrong search terms.
In our news obsessed times I am surprised this report has almost been completely missed by national media. I half heard it at the end of a Radio 4 8am paper review. I think it is in the Independent on Sunday but the story generally seems majorly under reported. I think it is fascinating, and interesting the code books are said to have been destroyed. I cannot see why as equally large 2secrets2 are kept confidential and then released. The story about how the Canadian WW1 code was discovered is also interesting, I suspect there is more that can yet been reported. I wonder how prominent it was in Dorset Echo printed and on line reports as it has attracted very few comments here. Yet it does seem as if Dorset Echo broke the story. I am surprised it has not been picked up by local BBC radio news, yet when I searched it on BBC website nothing was found, maybe I just used the wrong search terms. Tolkny
  • Score: -1

9:08am Sun 16 Dec 12

Tolkny says...

Maybe it was missed because it was a Saturday story and Dorset Echo is perhaps only covered by emergency staff at weekends?
Maybe it was missed because it was a Saturday story and Dorset Echo is perhaps only covered by emergency staff at weekends? Tolkny
  • Score: 0

9:44am Sun 16 Dec 12

Tolkny says...

My wife has queried - how did Sgt Scott get the pigeon in the first place?

Presumably as part of the war effort pigeon fanciers in the UK were training up pigeons for this sort of work.

I wonder were they taken on practice flights by Coastal Command and released at sea ever further from 2home2. This is an aspect of WWII I have never heard reported.

Have historians dealt with it? Obviously it was an old practice even in WWII as it went on in WWI according to the Canadian code book. So how far back did it go.

Was their a pigeon division in the army or perhaps Royal Flying Corps?

I have heard The Queen has a royal Pigeon keeper at Sandringham - or did in years gone by. Possibly The Royal Family used pigeons to send messages around the country before telegrams.

Presumably the practice pre dates telegrams because once Telegrams were regularly available, there would normally have been no need for a pigeon post except as a back up or where telegrams could not reach at first, perhaps on The Channel Islands and other outlying communities - Balmoral maybe?

An interesting subject.
My wife has queried - how did Sgt Scott get the pigeon in the first place? Presumably as part of the war effort pigeon fanciers in the UK were training up pigeons for this sort of work. I wonder were they taken on practice flights by Coastal Command and released at sea ever further from 2home2. This is an aspect of WWII I have never heard reported. Have historians dealt with it? Obviously it was an old practice even in WWII as it went on in WWI according to the Canadian code book. So how far back did it go. Was their a pigeon division in the army or perhaps Royal Flying Corps? I have heard The Queen has a royal Pigeon keeper at Sandringham - or did in years gone by. Possibly The Royal Family used pigeons to send messages around the country before telegrams. Presumably the practice pre dates telegrams because once Telegrams were regularly available, there would normally have been no need for a pigeon post except as a back up or where telegrams could not reach at first, perhaps on The Channel Islands and other outlying communities - Balmoral maybe? An interesting subject. Tolkny
  • Score: 0

11:37am Sun 16 Dec 12

madbadrob says...

For those wanting info on how pidgeons were used in WWII see http://en.wikipedia.
org/wiki/War_pigeon and the national news did have this back in Nov but not that it had been cracked
For those wanting info on how pidgeons were used in WWII see http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/War_pigeon and the national news did have this back in Nov but not that it had been cracked madbadrob
  • Score: 0

11:54am Sun 16 Dec 12

Tolkny says...

Thanks for the Wiki link, seems like it goes back to at least Roman times 2,000 years ago.

It is not something I have thought about before.

I read four generations of the Royal Family have kept pigeons and that The Queen has 240 at Sandringham http://www.royal.gov
.uk/TheRoyalHousehol
d/RoyalAnimals/Worki
nganimals/Thepigeonl
ofts.aspx
Thanks for the Wiki link, seems like it goes back to at least Roman times 2,000 years ago. It is not something I have thought about before. I read four generations of the Royal Family have kept pigeons and that The Queen has 240 at Sandringham http://www.royal.gov .uk/TheRoyalHousehol d/RoyalAnimals/Worki nganimals/Thepigeonl ofts.aspx Tolkny
  • Score: 0

6:58am Mon 17 Dec 12

BrianW100 says...

Not surprising that any sensible newspaper ignored it - only the Daily Mail fell for this story, and then the BBC cut and pasted it onto their website...

Joanna was taken in. This story is silly.

The term 'Panzer' was not in use in WWI, one the the letter groups is misread as 6 characters long. Etc.

The 'Canadians' are probably hoaxing...

See here for a blog that debunks this story:

http://www.enigmatic
ape.com/blog/pigeon-
code-almost-certainl
y-not-broken/
Not surprising that any sensible newspaper ignored it - only the Daily Mail fell for this story, and then the BBC cut and pasted it onto their website... Joanna was taken in. This story is silly. The term 'Panzer' was not in use in WWI, one the the letter groups is misread as 6 characters long. Etc. The 'Canadians' are probably hoaxing... See here for a blog that debunks this story: http://www.enigmatic ape.com/blog/pigeon- code-almost-certainl y-not-broken/ BrianW100
  • Score: 1

1:16pm Mon 17 Dec 12

Throckape says...

Is it too late to send back a message to tell the frontline they can all come home.
Is it too late to send back a message to tell the frontline they can all come home. Throckape
  • Score: 0

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