WWII code experts called in to help solve mystery of the pigeon’s foot

GCHQ turn to Bletchley Park veterans for help with D-Day cipher

Britain’s top code-breakers have appealed for public help to crack a secret Second World War code found attached to the leg of a dead pigeon.

The message was discovered by David Martin after he ripped out a fireplace and found the bird’s skeleton while renovating his house in Bletchingley, Surrey.

Historians believe the pigeon was almost certainly dispatched from Nazi-occupied France during the D-Day invasions of 6 June 1944. Attached to its leg was a red canister and a piece of paper headed “Pigeon Service”, with 27 handwritten blocks of code in the canister.

The mysterious message was passed to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, in the hope that its codebreakers could decipher the words.

But GCHQ’s experts say they are unable to unravel the puzzle without knowing more about the cryptographic context in which it was sent. They have now appealed to retired codebreakers who worked at GCHQ’s predecessor, Bletchley Park, and others who may have worked in military signals during the war to offer their expertise.

Those who are still alive are likely to be in their nineties but their memories may be sharp enough to recognise the type of code used, and explain how it could be deciphered.

Experts believe it could be a one-off encryption for which only the sender and the recipient would have had a key, rendering it almost certainly unbreakable, or that it was based on a specific codebook for a particular operation. If the codebook has since been destroyed, that would also make the cipher virtually unbreakable.

More than 250,000 carrier pigeons were used as secret messengers in the Second World War and each had an identity number. There are two pigeon identification numbers in the message – NURP.40.TW.194 and NURP.37.OK.76 –but it is unclear which one relates to the bird in the chimney.

A GCHQ historian told the BBC: “There are still quite a lot of people alive who worked in communications centres during the war and who might have some knowledge about this and it would be very interesting if anyone did have information if they could put it in the pot and we could see if we could get any further with it.”

The only part of the message that has been deciphered is that of its intended destination – that of Bomber Command, referred to as XO2, while the sender’s signature at the bottom of the message read Serjeant W Stot.

The spelling of “Serjeant” is thought to be significant, as the RAF used “j” while the Army used “g”. It is thought the bird’s destination was Bletchley Park, 80 miles from Mr Martin’s home. The Royal Pigeon Racing Association believes the bird probably either got lost, disorientated in bad weather, or was exhausted after a long journey.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth Games
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
film
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Extras
indybestSpice up your knife with our selection of delicious toppings
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL DBA (2005/2008/2012, projects, storage requirements)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried