Pigeon policy

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Pigeon policy (KV 4/229-231)

Pigeon policy (KV 4/229-231)

These files relate to the Security Service's interest in Britain's post-war pigeon policy (which was led by the Joint Intelligence Committee).

Covering 1945-1947, KV 4/229 deals with the establishment of a post-war sub-committee of the Joint Intelligence Committee to examine pigeon policy. The Security Service was initially not included in this committee, and when it was, there was a conflict with the Secret Intelligence Service about whether a military or civilian pigeon loft should be maintained (eventually the Security Service view won out, and a civilian loft run by Captain Caiser from his home in Worcester Park was established). The Second World War had revealed that pigeons were now obsolete for signals purposes, but still had a role to play in intelligence work, and the JIC was anxious to ensure that Britain maintained its own pigeon capability and was adequately protected against enemy pigeons. The proposals are fully considered on the file, which includes the Security Service assessment of the post-war plans. The file includes an appraisal of the wartime anti-pigeon Falconry Unit ("whilst they never brought down an enemy bird - probably because there never were any - they did demonstrate that they could bring down any pigeon that crossed the area they were patrolling"). The file also includes the results of experiments on the impact of radio transmissions on the effectiveness of homing pigeons.

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The story continues in KV 4/230 (1947-1949). The armed services dropped out from the sub-committee in November 1948, having no further interest in the subject, leaving just the two intelligence agencies and Captain Caiser. There was some correspondence about the control of pigeons in a future war with the Home Office as it updated defence regulations. JIC asked the sub-committee to examine the impact of radiation on homing pigeons, and as a result a number of pigeons (and their handlers) were exposed to small doses of gamma radiation in the Arethusa experiment at Portland dockyard, to no recordable effect.

Finally in 1950, as recorded in KV 4/231, Caiser asked the Security Service for some funding for his expenses in maintaining the government loft, which triggered an examination of the costs and benefits of the loft. As the loft had barely been used in 5 years, the Service recommended that the loft be disbanded and the Pigeon Committee wound up, and this was agreed in May of that year.