They were the original tweeters - pigeons who acted as vital message carriers to relay urgent news about the D-Day landings.

Thousands of pigeon fanciers gave their birds to the war effort to bring back news on how the troops were progressing during World War Two.

The first news report of the D-Day landings came from Gustav, an RAF homing pigeon released by the Reuters news agency correspondent Montague Taylor.

Taylor crossed the Channel with Allied forces and a number of birds to dispatch news of significant developments back to the office via the RAF.

The message which had been strapped to Gustav's leg read: ''We are just twenty miles or so off the beaches.

''First assault troops landed 0750. Signal says no interference from enemy gunfire on beach...Steaming steadily in formation.

''Lightnings, Typhoons, Fortresses crossing since 0545. No enemy aircraft seen.''

After Gustav travelled 150 miles across the Channel in five hours and 16 minutes to his pigeon loft at RAF Thorney Island in Hampshire with the message, his handler, Sgt Harry Halsey, took it and passed it to headquarters.

Gustav's efforts earned him the PDSA Dickin Medal on September 1, 1944, popularly regarded as the animal version of the Victoria Cross.

The citation read: ''For delivering the first message from the Normandy Beaches from a ship off the beach-head while serving with the RAF on June 6, 1944.''

Four pigeons, including Gustav, who delivered timely messages throughout Operation Overlord, along with one dog - an Alsatian called Brian - received the PDSA Dickin Medal for their life-saving actions on D-Day.

Dorset Echo:

Another pigeon honoured was Paddy - service number NPS.43.9451 - for the fastest recorded time with a message from the Normandy operations.

During the Second World War, nearly 250,000 birds were used by the Army, the RAF and the Civil Defence Services.

Pigeon racing was halted and birds of prey along Britain's coastline were culled to enable the messenger pigeons to fly without coming to harm.

The PDSA Dickin Medal, instituted in 1943 by Maria Dickin, the founder of the UK veterinary charity, was awarded to animals to highlight their bravery in the line of fire.

Sixty-five of the medals have been awarded since 1943 - 32 of them to pigeons, 29 to dogs, three to horses and one cat.