Gas proof box for carrier pigeons : German Army, 8 August 1918

Place Europe: France, Picardie, Somme
Accession Number RELAWM04399
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Heraldry
Physical description Canvas, Celluloid, Leather, Rubberised fabric, Steel, Wood, Zinc
Maker Hanseatische Apparatebau-Gesellschaft
Place made Germany: Kiel
Date made 1918
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

Heavy wooden gas-proof carrying box, with 35mm thick sides, mounted on two wooden runners, to take up to four birds. The box is lined throughout with zinc plated steel. There is an outward opening inner mesh door reinforced with soldered vertical bars (one bar is missing) behind an outward opening wooden door with bevelled edges for a close airproof fit. The door is lined with steel plated zinc and edged with thick felt. It is secured by a swivelling metal peg. The front of the door is marked in white paint 'GERMAN GAS PROOF PIGEON BOX From 5TH AUS - DIV SIGNAL COY 8/8/18'. It also bears a stamped aluminium manufacturer's plate, attached with four small tacks, which reads, 'VORM. L. VON BREMEN & Co KIEL/ Hanseatische Apparatebau-Gesellschaft'. Each short side has two field grey painted gas respirator canisters screwed through the depth of the side. They bear dates for December 1917, April and May 1918. A black painted metal carrying handle is screwed into each side between each pair of canisters. In addition to the carry handles there is a canvas shoulder strap running along the length of the box, attached with three screws above each of the upper canisters. The entire long side of the back of the box bears a khaki canvas pouch with a flap secured by two leather straps and buckles. The pouch contains a wooden frame with an inner edge of thick felt that can be secured of the door of the box by means of four wing nuts (one nut is missing). Attached to the centre of the frame, between the wood and felt, is a rubberised fabric pouch with two arm pieces to fit the operator's arms. A metal rimmed clear celluloid 'window' is set into the centre of the fabric. Once the frame is fitted over the door of the box the operator can catch the pigeon and attach a message while both are protected from gas attack.

History / Summary

This gas-proofed box for carrier pigeons was recovered from German positions during the Australian advance of 8 August 1918, by members of 5 Division Signals. The unit's War Diary does not mention specific locations, however, as the 5th Division (along with the 4th Division) were to leapfrog the initial attacking divisions on 8 August, to exploit the initial advances, they followed a line from north of Villers-Bretonnaux through Warfusse and Bayonvillers to the northeast of Harbonnieres. This item must therefore have been picked up somewhere along this line.

The presence of this box highlights the continued reliance on pigeons as a form of communication (on all sides), even to the end of the First World War. Radio communications were in their infancy and fixed telephone lines were often broken by shellfire, tanks and the enemy. Flags, message dogs and pigeons formed a reliable and proven fallback. The fact that this box is gas-proofed also provides an insight into the ever-present possibility of gas as a harrassing or aggressive weapon; and the importance of protecting such an important communication asset.

This box was handed over to the Australian War Records Section, following slowly in the wake of the allied advance, on 27 August.