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Dickin Medal

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55813.  Mon Feb 27, 2006 2:44 pm Reply with quote

Question: Which is the bravest species of animal?

Forfeit: Lions, Tigers, Humans, ringworm, chicken….

Answer: The pigeon. Since the inception of the Dickin Medal, the highest animal award for bravery, more than half have been awarded to the so called “flying rats”.

The Dickin medal was instituted by Mrs Maria Dickin founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) in 1943, and was immediately recognised as “the Animals’ Victoria Cross”.

The original idea was to reward “any animal displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty whilst serving with armed forces or civil emergency services”

The species with most winners with 32 out of 60 is the pigeon; many messenger pigeons were used during the Second World War, during communication black-outs and attacks.

One of the first pigeons to win this coveted award was Winkie, a messenger pigeon on a downed aeroplane. As the aircraft landed, Winkie broke free and found her way back to her owner in Scotland. From her oily and bedraggled appearance, Winkie’s owner could roughly estimate how long she had been flying, and using this information along with the last known co-ordinates of the plane, the crew were saved.

A few years later, Gustav the pigeon was issued to the war correspondent Montague Taylor, and braved a 150 mile trip to deliver the first account of the Normandy landings.
The message read: “We are just twenty miles or so off the beaches. First assault troops landed 0750. Signal says no interference from enemy gunfire on beach... Steaming steadily in formation. Lightnings, Typhoons, Fortresses crossing since 0545. No enemy aircraft seen.” Gustav would come to a acrimonious end after the war when someone mucking-out his loft accidentally sat on him.

Of the non-avian winners of the dicken medal, Simon the cat is perhaps the best known. As the ships cat of HMS Amethyst on the Yangtze River in China, he survived a huge enemy assault, and helped both the crew’s sanitation and sanity by catching hundreds of rats and keeping up the ship’s morale. The most notable of the WWII dogs to be honoured was probably Rob, who would parachute down behind enemy lines with the SAS, keeping guard over the soldiers as they completed their missions. All told, Rob made 20 such descents.

Between 1943 and 1949 PDSA awarded 54 Dickin Medals including 32 pigeons, 18 dogs, three horses and one cat. Recently a few more awards have been given out, most noticeably guide dog "Salty", owned by Omar Rivera, and guide dog "Roselle", owned by Michael Hingson, who received their PDSA Dickin Medals for their devotion to duty as they led their owners down more than 70 floors of the World Trade Center and to a place of safety. The Search and Rescue dogs were also honoured for their service to humanity at Ground Zero and the Pentagon.

Links: Dogs, Danger, D-Day, Disasters


55935.  Tue Feb 28, 2006 5:36 am Reply with quote

For a link to Donkeys, see post 55768

55971.  Tue Feb 28, 2006 7:53 am Reply with quote

To log it, there's an anecdote about four carrier pigeons landing in a Canadian trench during WW1, in which they eat three and use the fourth to send a thank you letter. I don't think it matters much whether it's true or not, so I'm not going to take time tracking it down. We thought it might be a good sign-off for Stephen at the end of the relevant show.

58678.  Fri Mar 10, 2006 9:10 am Reply with quote

On the subject of kamikaze pigeons, we should certainly take note of BF Skinner's pigeon-guided missiles:

In early 1942, behavioral scientist B.F. Skinner studied the use of trained pigeons to guide weapons. The idea was to show the birds photos of the planned target on a screen, and train them to peck on it. In the actual missile, a lens system in the weapon's nose would project the target image to three birds' screens. Using an electrically conductive screen to translate off-center pecks to an error signal, the guidance logic could correct the flight path of the missile. The NDRC actually funded the effort on a small scale as "Project Pigeon". Skinner was able to demonstrate the basic principle successfully in simulations on the ground, and wanted to install a pigeon guidance system in Pelican glide bombs for actual flight tests. However, Navy officials eventually dismissed the whole idea as impractical, and therefore the pigeon-guided missile remained an obscure anecdote in the history of weapons development in World War 2.

The system worked by training pigeons to earn a food reward by pecking on an image of a ship. Then you put three of them into the missile and launched it. If, say, the missile was aiming low and to the left the pigeons would see the ship in the top right area of their window, peck there, and so trigger a corrective mechanism linked to the missile's guidance system. The closer the ship got the bigger it got in the screen, and the more the pigeons pecked, so that just before they hit the target and were obliterated they were being showered with grain and thought it was Christmas.

Skinner's great insight was to demonstrate that conditioned behaviour could be 100% predictable.

58681.  Fri Mar 10, 2006 9:14 am Reply with quote

One Skinner-trained bird pecked at an image more than 10,000 times in 45 minutes.

I think this idea is stong enough to support its own question, as a follow-up to the Dicken Medal question. Wording, anyone?

58683.  Fri Mar 10, 2006 9:18 am Reply with quote

Maybe just:

Tell us about BF Skinner's kamikaze pigeon unit.

Frederick The Monk
58735.  Fri Mar 10, 2006 11:45 am Reply with quote

Must be something in there on homing pigeons not usually taking one-way missions...........

Last edited by Frederick The Monk on Fri Mar 10, 2006 2:45 pm; edited 1 time in total

58803.  Fri Mar 10, 2006 2:39 pm Reply with quote

Q: What kind of 'homing' pigeon shouldn't ever come home?

Frederick The Monk
58811.  Fri Mar 10, 2006 2:48 pm Reply with quote

He he.

or Which animal should you choose for a one-way mission?

- a homing pigeon (they're the bravest and they have previous form for this sort of thing).

59151.  Sun Mar 12, 2006 6:12 am Reply with quote

For the notes: Skinner is also known for the Skinner Box, an experimental device for examining rat behaviour in terms of purely external stimuli, and also for the calumny that he put his daughter in one, too.

The pigeon guidance technology work wasn't entirely wasted - for a while the US Coastguard used pigeons to guide rescue helicopters. They were trained to peck at orange dots, which meant they could be used in searches for orange lifejackets in open seas, their eyesight being better than that of the helicopter pilots. (I don't have any more details on this - the source is Ian Simmons in FT186, p53)

Ian Dunn
643801.  Mon Dec 07, 2009 1:48 am Reply with quote

A Dickin Medal appeared on Antiques Roadshow last night.

BBC iPlayer - 21m 55sec in

643811.  Mon Dec 07, 2009 2:32 am Reply with quote

Not sure that pigeons can be identified as brave - do they have the sense to understand that they're in danger.

Even the cat was just doing its job oblivious to everything.

Only the para dog showed bravery - as it probbly saw itself as part of a fighting pack - and even went back for more.

Bloody pigeons.

This isn't the wizard of oz. you know. Medals do not equate with bravery.


Gallant pigeons, my arse. Maybe cockerels...

643867.  Mon Dec 07, 2009 7:33 am Reply with quote

Posital wrote:
Gallant pigeons, my arse.

You should watch 'Valiant'. Good family fun. Gallant pigeons.

T J Alex
655567.  Sat Jan 09, 2010 12:12 pm Reply with quote

I have to agree with Posital a pigeon just doing what comes naturally isn't being brave .

To be brave you have to overcome fear, a frightened dog fighting to defend his unconscious master against a grizzly bear is being brave,a dog who only knows that he has to smell out an item,unaware that its an unexploded bomb isn't.


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