Victoria Cross hero pigeon Winkie honoured with memorial to bird’s RAF rescue mission

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A lasting tribute to a pigeon which helped save lives and win a war has winged its way to the bird’s home village.

Blue chequer hen Winkie became an animal Victoria Cross recipient after helping to save the stranded crew of an RAF bomber after it crashed in the icy North Sea at the height of World War II.

Winkie

Winkie

The bird had been a carrier pigeon for the service and followed her training when she escaped from her container in the impact of the crash as the Beaufort Bomber hit the sea between Norway and Scotland on the night of February 23, 1942.

She flew home, alerting her owner who contacted the RAF, which then deduced where she had flown from based on her bedraggled condition and weather conditions.

The crew were saved after they were found in their rubber dingy.

Her heroics earned Winkie, who was bred on Bents Farm in Whitburn, the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of a VC.

Winkie's medal

Winkie's medal

With radio silence essential, RAF crews used tens of thousands of birds to send messages and microfilm, with the animals reliable and able to make their journeys undetected.

Now, she has been given a lasting memorial in the village, with a display entitled Winkie Comes Home to Whitburn installed in Latimer’s cafe in the village.

The information board has been put together by pigeon enthusiast and history buff Jack Curtis, from Sunderland, with the support of the Latimer family, who also have a history of keeping the birds.

Jack’s curiosity was pricked when he was working as a volunteer for Living History North at the Donnison School ,in Church Walk, in the East End of the city.

He said: “I had previously assisted a couple of Sunderland University students, with a history of the River Wear, and my WW11 experiences of the bombing of our town.

“From this I was asked to give several talks, for the Lovell Lectures and after agreeing chose several subjects, then decided to give a talk on pigeon racing, which seemed to go down quite well.

“Emboldened by my reception I decided to do a talk on Britain’s war birds, and naturally one of my top choices was the local number one Dickin Medal Winner, named Winkie.”

Jack helped put together the permanent exhibition of information and images with the support of the Latimers after Jack’s research on pigeon fanciers led him to find details of the family’s success in breeding race winners.

The display on show in Latimer's.

The display on show in Latimer's.

Jack added: “Today, Whitburn’s VC winner has come back home to rest, about half a mile away from her birth place, and thanks to the Latimer family will be seen by thousands.

“She sits proudly on the wall just inside their shop entrance, for the world and his wife to see, the story of this gallant little blue chequer hen’s heroic flight, which saved the lives of an entire aircrew, at a critical time in our battle for survival.”

Winkie, who was owned by James Ross and trained by AR Colley, was presented with her medal by the 42 Squadron RAF a year after the alert and became the only VC winner on Wearside.

The celebration took place at a winner held in her honour by the plane’s crew.

Her awards are on show in a Dundee Museum, as she had been sent to work in Scotland.

The Latimer family with one of their pidgeons.

The Latimer family with one of their pidgeons.