Gas proof box for carrier pigeons : German Army

Place Europe: France, Picardie, Somme
Accession Number RELAWM04399.001
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

British and German forces used carrier pigeons in significant numbers during the war to send important messages and communications. Where traditional methods of communications often failed, carrier pigeons were silent, efficient and reliable. Carrier pigeons used by the German army were targeted and captured, in order to intercept vital military messages, and break down enemy communication. The development of a gas proof box for storage and care of the pigeons - such a vital part of the communications network at the time - was a necessary development once gas had become an establised weapon of the First World War.

The pigeons were a significant asset on both sides. Gas boxes, like this one, were designed to protect carrier pigeons during gas attacks in the trenches. This German army gas proof pigeon box was captured by 5th Australian Division Signal Company on the 8th August 1918.