The Royal family is well-known for their love of animals. Today we take a look how pigeons play into a love for all creatures great and small as well as the occasional competition in the sport of pigeon racing.
King George VI and family with Mr J Walter Jones at the Royal Lofts, 1937.
In 1886 King Leopold II of Belgium bestowed a gift of racing pigeons to the Royal Family. A proper racing loft was thus built on the Sandringham Estate. The Royal Lofts as they would be known would house pigeons that won a good number of prestigious races for both King Edward VII and King George V.
During the World War I and World War II, pigeons from the Royal Loft acted as carrier pigeons to assist in the war effort. In 1940, one of the pigeons “Royal Blue’ won the Dickin Medal for Gallantry for its part in relaying information about a lost aircraft.
Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret using carrier pigeons in 1943.
During World War II and subsequently after, The Dickin Medal was conferred for any animal exhibiting outstanding bravery and loyalty to duty. There were 53 Dickin Medals awarded with 32 of the awards given to pigeons. Mrs Maria Dickin, founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals began the awarded known as the ‘Animal Victoria Cross’ or ‘Animal VC.’
After World War II, the pigeons went back to racing, continuing their winning records in both national and international events.
Today there are 160 mature pigeons housed in the lofts along with 80 young pigeons. Some are for breeding purposes but most for racing.
The Queen with former Royal Lofts Manager, Carlo Napolitano.
In recent years, Her Majesty donated a baby pigeon from the Royal Lofts to raise funds for the Animals in War Memorial Fund. The funds goal is to build a monument honouring animals that lost their lives in First and Second World War. The monument will feature a soldier along a dog and horse releasing a pigeon. All three animals played a significant role in both wars.
Pigeon racing season begins in April running until September. Royal birds enter weekly club races as well as the notable national races. The Queen’s pigeons sport a unique leg ring with Her Majesty’s cipher and royal crests embellished on their travelling boxes.
Today Her Majesty is Patron of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association and continues her interest in the pigeons with stops at the Royal Loft whilst at Sandringham. Winning every single major UK race, Her Majesty is one of the most successful owners and breeders of racing pigeons in the United Kingdom.
Join me next time when we take a look at The Duchess of Cornwall and her canine interests.
Photo Credit: Special Thanks to The Royal Pigeon Racing Association @official_rpra