A retired probation officer in England cleaning out his chimney recently was startled to sweep up a 70-year-old secret amid the soot: the skeleton of a World War II carrier pigeon with a coded message still attached to its leg.
David Martin, 74, found the bird's remains while renovating a unused fireplace at his Surrey home not far from the wartime headquarters of Gen. Bernard Montgomery, the Daily Mail writes. The British commander planned the D-Day invasion at a hotel in nearby Reigate.
"It could have been a secret message for him. I hope it is something interesting it will be amazing if we discover an unknown detail from such an important part of British history," Martin told the newspaper.
Martin said he and his wife Anne "were stunned it was like Christmas had come early. The chimney was full of hundreds of twigs and rubbish and then I just started finding various bits of a dead pigeon."
At first they thought it might be a racing pigeon "until we spotted the red capsule and our eyes just lit up."
Carrier pigeons have been used since ancient times to relay messages from behind enemy lines and the capsule Martin found was the kind British troops used during World War II. Back then, according to the BBC, messenger pigeons went along on nearly every Royal Air Force mission. More than 250,000 pigeons were deployed by the British during the war, often accompanying bomber crews as a "feathered forerunner of the black box."
The unfortunate bird stuck in Martin's chimney may have been overcome by fumes while resting during its journey from Nazi-occupied Normandy. But officials won't know for sure until the coded message is deciphered. It's been sent to Bletchley Park, Britain's codebreaking headquarters in Buckinghamshire, and analysts at the British intelligence agency GCHQ are working to decode the message.
The message was written by a Sergeant W. Stott, who was probably an airman. It contains 27 codes that each contain a combination of five numbers and letters. The message was destined for "X02," which was the classified designation for Britain's Bomber Command in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.
Whatever it was, it must have been "highly top secret," said Colin Hill, curator of Bletchley Park’s ‘Pigeons at War’ exhibit and a volunteer for the Royal Pigeon Racing Association. He told the Mail that of more than 30 messages from WWII carrier pigeons in the collection, not a single one is written in code.