Imagine walking along a field and spotting a shiny capsule with a century-old message inside. That’s what happened to one couple who was hiking in northeastern France. As intriguing as the discovery seemed, they had no idea how exceptional it was until they brought it to an expert. Read on to see what made this 110-year-old message rare enough to belong in a museum.
Going For A Hike
Jade Halaoui and his girlfriend Juliette decided to go on a hike in Ingersheim, a town in northeastern France. It was a beautiful day in September, during which time the temperature in Ingersheim is typically around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
With such ideal hiking weather, it’s no wonder that the couple felt compelled to head out in the great outdoors. Little did they know that this ideal day was about to get a lot more incredible.
Something Shining In The Light
Jade and Juliette were walking across a field when they noticed something in the distance. In the clearing, the light was able to hit something just right so that it glimmered.
They approached the object and realized that it was an aluminum capsule. The couple could have just left it at that and walked away. Or worse, they could have mistaken the object for trash and tossed it out! Fortunately, they didn’t do either of those things.
Digging It Out Of The Ground
The capsule wasn’t just sitting above ground. It was actually partially buried, as though it had been there for some time. When Jade approached the object, he had to dig it out to inspect what it was.
The item was a carrier pigeon capsule, which became more apparent when Jade opened it up. Inside was a small piece of very fragile paper. Over the years, the note had worn out so that the message was difficult to read.
A Connection To War
The capsule that Jade and Juliette stumbled upon was similar to those used during World War I. The birds provided a way for soldiers to communicate to one another in foreign lands, where postage services might not be secure.
An individual would put a message in a capsule like the one Jade spotted, and then tie it around the bird’s leg. The bird would then fly home, dutifully delivering the message to their owner and the intended receiver.
Growing In Popularity
By the 19th century, carrier pigeons were highly used and valued. Paul Reuter, who created one of the largest news agencies in the world, used dozens of pigeons to deliver news between Brussels and Aachen.
Around the same time, homing pigeons were a game-changer in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. Paris’ soldiers initially put their messages in metal balls and sent them down a river, but that proved ineffective as they failed to reach their destination.
Impacting The Outcome Of A War
When French soldiers realized that there were a number of issues with sending messages down a river, they sought a different method. They were able to make use of carrier pigeons just in the nick of time.
As soldiers invaded Paris, defenders of the city rushed to send carrier pigeons to their allies. They released three messenger birds from a hot air balloon to notify soldiers around the country, which could mean several hours of flying for the pigeon.
Obstacles They Faced
By the time the French Empire and the Prussian Kingdom were duking it out in 1870, carrier pigeons were widely used, especially during wartime. It is estimated that 400 of these birds were utilized on the battlefield.
Not only were they flying through a literal war, but they also faced battles of their own. Opponents started training falcons to take down messenger pigeons and halt communication between soldiers. To top it off, weather conditions could prove challenging.
Used In World War I
Though only 73 of the 400 carrier pigeons used in the Franco-Prussian war survived the battle, they were still one of the more reliable means of communication. That’s why they were widely popular during World War I.
At the time, other modes of communication, like the telegraph, weren’t sophisticated enough to hold up during a war effort. German soldiers took the pigeon post a step further by attaching automatic cameras to them so they could spy on the enemy.
Thousands Of Pigeons Were Involved In WWI
Incredibly, US troops utilized an estimated 600 carrier pigeons during WWI. Meanwhile, France had around 30,000 pigeons in their avian forces!
So when a hiking couple stumbled across an old carrier pigeon capsule in Ingersheim, there was no doubt there was a rich history there. While it may have seemed at first that the message would be from one of the thousands of French carrier pigeons, there was more to the story.
Ingersheim Used To Be In Germany
Remember that 1870 Franco-Prussian War? One of the things it resulted in was the Alsace historic region being handed over from France to Germany. The agreement was a part of the Treaty of Frankfurt and meant that Ingersheim, which is located in Alsace, was a city in Germany at one point.
It wasn’t until WWI that the town was given back to France. This complicated the history of the carrier pigeon capsule that Jade and Juliette stumbled upon.
Wondering What The Message Meant
The message that the hiking couple came across could have been wildly significant for a number of reasons. For all they knew, it could have dated back to WWI or even the Franco-Prussian War!
With such grand possibilities on the line, the couple knew that they should be responsible with their finding. The first order of business was to take the item to an expert. Lucky for them, there was a local museum nearby that would have some answers.
A Potential Connection
Jade and Juliette ended up at the Linge Memorial Museum in Orbey. The museum is dedicated to honoring the fallen soldiers of the Battle of Le Linge, which went on for a few months in 1915.
French and German soldiers went head-to-head in the battle, resulting in 17,000 lost lives. Given that the museum was only ten miles away from where the capsule was found, it seemed possible that it might be leftover from this battle.
Seeking Help From An Expert
When the couple went to the museum, workers were immediately intrigued by what they’d found. The expert who was on the case was Dominique Jardy. The curator expressed his excitement to the local newspaper, Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace.
In the interview, Jardy recalled, “When [Jade] described the find to me, I went nuts. It’s a rare find.” They clearly had something special on their hands, and it was Jardy’s job to put together all the pieces.
Difficulty Reading The Note
Though the capsule did an impressive job preserving such an old note, it was still challenging to read. Not only was the message weathered, but it was also written in a German Gothic script.
Not even Dominique Jardy could discern what it said. For that, he would need to bring in a friend who was fluent in the language and hope they could crack the code. Fortunately, translating it proved to be possible, and the mystery began to unravel.
What The Message Said
At last, Jade and Juliette were finally able to learn what the message they found read. According to the translator, it said, “Platoon Potthof receives fire as they reach the western border of the parade ground, platoon Potthof takes up fire and retreats after a while.”
The message went on to say, “In Fechtwald half a platoon was disabled. Platoon Potthof retreats with heavy losses.” Based on the context of the message, it was clearly military after all.
Which Battle Was This Message From?
To someone who isn’t an expert, it seems clear that the message was from a battle. The question was who was a part of platoon Potthof and what exactly happened in Fechwald?
Jardy was history-savvy enough to know that the message actually had nothing to do with WWI or the Franco-Prussia War for that matter. It wasn’t related to a battle at all! Still, the significant note was one of the most unique items Jardy had ever seen.
Connecting The Dots
As Jardy explained to the local news, the message was written as part of a military exercise. While he at first suspected it was from either 1910 or 1916, the translation indicated it to be from 1910.
Jardy knew this because such military exercises hadn’t occurred in 1916, during which time WWI was already running rampant. He could tell from the terminology alone that this message was from a practice maneuver, not an actual warzone.
An Extremely Rare Find
Though the message wasn’t from an actual war, it was still incredibly significant. Jardy couldn’t emphasize enough how rare of a find it was, stating, “I’ve never seen anything like it in 40 years. It is a short report on a war simulation.”
One question that remained is how the note ended up on a hiking trail in Ingersheim. Some experts deduced that it was probably written nearby, while others think it came from Colmar a few miles away.
Adding It To The Museum’s Inventory
Wherever the note came from one thing is for sure, and that’s that it was an authentic carrier pigeon message from soldiers preparing for battle. Jardy explained that though many of these birds didn’t make it to their destination, their messages are often lost.
He surmised that the capsule must have resurfaced over the years, as though it was meant to be found. Now the rare discovery is on display at the Linge Memorial Museum.
The Messages Could Only Go One Way
Pigeons were pegged as the perfect delivery alternative due to their incredible navigation skills. They can sense how to get home even if the location is 1,000 miles away. These messenger birds are sometimes called homing pigeons because their job essentially consists of going back home.
To create a correspondence, one person would manually transport the pigeon to another individual. Once the pigeon arrived, the sender would attach the message to its leg and let it free. The bird would instinctively return home, delivering the message.
The Method Has Been Around For Thousands Of Years
Homing pigeons have been around for quite some time. Experts know that pigeons were used to announce the winners of the Ancient Olympics, which date back to 776 BC.
Historians also know that King Cyrus II of Persia used the pigeon post during his reign, as did Julius Ceasar. Though the technique is quite literally ancient, it stood the test of time and was a trusted method of communication for thousands of years to come.
Only Few Knew How To Use Carrier Pigeons
Though carrier pigeons stood the test of time, thousands of years passed before they became widely used. It makes sense that the news about messenger pigeons would have taken some time to spread considering they were a top-secret way of communication.
One ruler who relied consistently on carrier pigeons was Sultan Nur ad-Din, who established a pigeon post between Baghdad and Syria in the year 1167. Around the same time period, Genghis Khan also utilized these bird messengers as he built up his massive empire.
Delivering The Outcome Of A Battle
One of the more famous stories involving a carrier pigeon is that they delivered the outcome of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. Rumor has it that banker Nathan Rothschild was the first to know the outcome thanks to his trusted homing pigeon.
According to the legend, Rothschild knew the outcome before anyone else did, giving him an advantage over the London Stock Exchange. If this was the case, then the messenger pigeon could have played a part in Rothschild becoming the wealthiest man on the planet.
A Brave American Pigeon
When Amerian troops joined WWI in 1917, they were sure to bring along their trusted sidekicks: carrier pigeons. It’s a good thing they did because one such bird saved troops’ lives during a battle on October 4, 1918.
Soldiers found themselves stuck on the wrong side of the battlefield during the Meuse-Argonne offensive. As a result, they were fired at by their own allies, who had no idea who they were putting at risk until they got the message.
A Carrier Pigeon Came To The Soldiers’ Rescue
Fortunately, the trapped soldiers had a carrier pigeon on their side. They quickly wrote a note with a map of their location, then strapped it to the pigeon’s leg. The bird made it over to the allied side to deliver the message.
Once the offending soldiers got the message, they immediately seized fire and the trapped fighters were able to escape back to safety. The heroic bird was named Cheri Ami, which means dear friend.
The Pigeon Even Got An Honorary Award
Cheri Ami not only saved the lives of several soldiers, but she also did so while injured! While in flight, the carrier pigeon was struck by German soldiers. The little fighter pushed through and made it back to the battalion.
While medics rushed to save the bird, they were unable to heal her leg. The soldiers created a false leg for the pigeon instead out of wood and awarded her with a military honor that usually only human soldiers receive.
Another Heroic Carrier Pigeon
Cheri Ami wasn’t the only carrier pigeon who acted like a brave soldier. Also during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, another pigeon named President Wilson came to the rescue.
Where Cheri was only attacked after her message was delivered, President Wilson was fired at by enemy soldiers on his way to send his message. Despite being targeted, the bird flew on and miraculously made it through. Like Cheri, Wilson lost a leg but survived for years to come.
A Pentagon Display
Where Cheri Ami got the prestigious Croix de Guerre military honor, President Wilson got a different reward for his loyalty in service. Medics healed the bird’s leg wound and another injury in its chest before letting him retire in New Jersey.
When it was President Wilson’s time, the pigeon’s remains were stuffed and put on display at the United States Department of Defense HQ in The Pentagon. This way, Americans would never forget the carrier pigeons who bravely persevered in WWI.