The PDSA Dicken Medal awarded to the pigeon Duke of Normandy. (Courtesy of Dix Noonan Webb)

PDSA Animal VC and Battle of Britain DFC to be Auctioned

The PDSA Dicken Medal popularly known as the Animal’s VC awarded to the first pigeon to bring back news from Normandy on 6 June, 1944, is to be auctioned, Dix Noonan Webb has announced.

The Dicken Medal was awarded to the cock-pigeon Duke of Normandy for its small but vital part in Operation Tonga, the British 6th Airborne Division’s component of the Normandy invasion. He was the first pigeon to return from occupied France during the invasion, arriving with vital intelligence after a 26 hour, 50 minute flight.

The medal will go on sale on 16 April, 2020, as part of Dix Noon Webb’s online/live auction of Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria and is expected to fetch between £6,000-8,000.

The PDSA Dicken Medal

Instituted by Maria Dickin, CBE the founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals in 1943, the Dickin Medal has since been awarded on 71 occasions – 32 of them going to pigeons, 34 to dogs, 4 to horses, and 1 to a cat.

The majority of the honours (and all those awarded to pigeons) were granted to recognised animal gallantry during in the Second World War, but more recently a number of awards have been made to Arms and Explosives Search Dogs of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps for their service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Auctioneer, Oliver Pepys, associate director of Dix Noonan Webb stated: “This Dickin Medal is extremely important it is the Animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, and very few have been awarded.

“Consequently, given their importance, scarcity, and the British public’s love of animals, they generally generate a lot of interest when they do come up for sale.”

Vital Communications

Although normally seen as a a primitive form of communication, messenger pigeons still played an important role in sending military communications during the Second World War.

They were used by all sides, RAF bomber crews and reconnaissance aircraft carried pigeons so they could raise the alarm should they have to ditch in the sea, and pigeons remained a useful means to send messages from agents in occupied Europe to their handlers. With more than 250,000 pigeons used by the British alone, it is not surprising German forces used snipers and trained falcons to attempt to stop them carrying messages from occupied Europe. They also outlawed the keeping of the birds.

Nevertheless, in the lead up to and during the D-Day landings, pigeons brought back messages with intelligence regarding German preparations, defences, and fortifications.

Duke of Normandy

Duke of Normandy was volunteered to the Army Pigeon Service by his owner, and dropped into action with 6th Airborne Division. He was carried by the men tasked with silencing the Merville Battery, which threatened Sword Beach and Ouistreham. However, the drop was badly scattered. Of the 600 men deployed, dispersion meant just 150 assembled for the assault. They had also lost much of their explosives and heavy equipment.

Official photograph showing the results of an unsuccessful bombing raid on the battery. Because it proved so hard to bomb, its destruction was assigned to 6th Airborne Division.

A 130-strong garrison was protecting the guns, which were kept inside 6ft (1.8m) thick casemates. An anti-aircraft cannon and 15 machine gun positions provided considerable firepower. The battery was surrounded by thick, chest-high tangles of barbed wire and a 100-yard deep minefield. In the attack, half the British paratroopers became casualties, but they succeeded in taking the battery.

With the paratroopers ordered to maintain radio silence, it fell to the Duke of Normandy to carry the news to Britain. He arrived as his loft after battling strong gales and heavy rain after 26 hours and 50 minutes. He was the first bird to return with news from the invading forces.

Note from the Auctioneer

Due to the current COVID 19 situation, there will be no physical viewing of the auction.

Prospective bidders are encouraged to consult DNW’s website where all lots are illustrated and further condition reports can be requested. Customers can bid online (DNW make no additional charge for this service) or leave commission bids prior to the auction. Please note the situation with regards to dispatch of lots is subject to constant review and should it be necessary lots can be securely stored (without charge) for as long as required.

DNW are donating 5% of all buyers’ premium during these uncertain times to the NHS Charities Together Covid-19 Appeal.

In 1947, he was presented with his Dickin Medal by Colonel Carkeet James, Governor of the Tower of London, in a televised ceremony at the BBC studios at Alexandra Palace.

Battle of Britain Lot

The 850 lot auction also includes a DFC and DFM medal group awarded to Spitfire pilot Squadron Leader Arthur C Leigh, RAFVR, a Battle of Britain veteran. Leigh claimed several confirmed and probable victories across 1940-41 , including three Bf 109 fighters destroyed.

He was shot down over the Channel in 1943, and supported ground forces through Normandy while flying Mustangs. After a period hunting V-1 flying bombs (downing two) he flew in support of Operation Market Garden, spending the rest of the war escorting bombers and conducting fighter sweeps. The group is estimated to fetch £6,000-£8,000.

A rare Second Boer War DSO and Great War Bar to the DSO, awarded to Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas E P Wickham of the Royal Horse Artillery, is expected to fetch £,600-4,400.

Wickham was one of only 35 officers to receive a Bar to a pre-War DSO, and he was wounded in both the Second Boer and the Great War. He was Mentioned in Despatches five times, and led 14th Brigade, RHA, on the Western Front. Earlier, he fought at the Relief of Kimberley and at Paardeberg.

Another interesting lot is a OBE, DFC and AFC group awarded to Wing Commander Harry S Grimsey.  He was an RAF airman who flew Marauders during the war, and later assigned to the VIP Flight missions. He led the aircraft that flew to the Yalta Conference in January 1945. His OBE was awarded for his role in the Berlin Airlift, and the group is expected to each £4,000-5,000.

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