Books

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Books I am currently reading: Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre. Spies + history = catnip for me anyway, but it's very engagingly written and I'm really enjoying it.

Popular image of spying: glamorous, competent people sipping martinis and seducing sexy enemy agents.

Actual spying: an equal blend of bureaucracy and crazy people.

At some point I need to transcribe or scan the book's section(s) on pigeons, because the pigeon stuff is AMAZING. It involves MI5 agent Richard Melville Walker ("He adored pigeons. He lived for pigeons. His reports were long, cooing poems of love.") who was convinced that Germany was going to smuggle intelligence out of the country with homing pigeons, despite the total lack of evidence for this, and deployed a series of anti-pigeon countermeasures, such as a brigade of trained falcons that only managed to succeed in taking down British pigeons ("friendly fire," the book comments dryly) and attempted pigeon double agents that quietly went native in French pigeon coops. A few choice bits are quoted here.

The "what happened to everyone after the war" chapter includes the following for Gustav the pigeon, who carried invasion news from the Normandy beach front and is the only war pigeon named in the book:

Gustav died soon after the war when his breeder trod on him while mucking out his loft.


Apparently Gustav was also awarded the Dickin Medal, the UK's distinguished service award for animals.

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I'm guessing the pigeon guy didn't quite understand that pigeons attach themselves to where they live, so moving them to a French coop would only end up with them 'going native' and homing back to said coop!!

(White Collar also has a misunderstanding of how/where pigeons home, but let's not get into that here! Though I'm now wondering if Mozzie has written 'cooing poems of love' about Estelle, lol?!)

Poor Gustav, what a sad way for a hero to die.
Well, the basic idea with the pigeon-coop infiltration was that the birds had obviously forged leg bands, so the Germans would get the idea that there were British ringers among their pigeons and their communications weren't safe. Or something like that. Apparently no one actually noticed the forged bands, or cared ...

And haha, yeah, the White Collar pigeon thing -- homing pigeons orient on places, not people! That was very silly. But a nice plot point.
Ah, makes a tiny bit more sense now!! Might have worked, if anyone had noticed or cared about the leg bands!

Maybe Mozzie has some sort of pigeon-attraction device? Russian surplus, of course!! :D :D
If anyone would, Mozzie would ...

And the "cooing poems of love" line in the book totally made me think of Mozzie and Estelle, too. :D
This is the first of his books I've read, but I loved it! I discovered that the library has some more of his books, so I guess I'll be taking a trip down there this weekend.
Ben Macintyre has done BBC programmes based on his books, which were all excellent. Agent ZigZag in particular is just brilliant - the sort of story that if it was written as fiction, people would consider far too far fetched. Ditto Operation Mincemeat, which is gloriously silly considering the seriousness of the situation. He's also a pretty good presenter, with the same dry humour as in the books.

Along the same lines (because clearly what you need are more things to read ;)) is "The War Magician" which is about Jasper Maskelyne, one of the family of famous magicians, who helped conjour up a fake army in the North African desert. I read 'Hiding the Elephant' and got quite interested in the family, which lead me to the later book - they're fascinating characters and quite unbelievable!