WWI soldier sent messages through carrier pigeon

By Ali Sorbara and Alex Palmieri, SCSU Journalism students

Ali Sorbara and Alex Palmieri, journalism students at Southern Connecticut State University, reported this story in 2017 as part of Journalism Capstone coursework on World War I.

Reuben Drummond found himself in an unusual position serving during World War I when he volunteered to work the front lines sending messages through carrier pigeon.  

Every day, Drummond was given a basket with pigeons in it, would carry it up to the front lines and wait until a message had to be sent. He would put the messages in a small metal depository, attach it to the pigeon’s legs, and send it off, according to his letters.

“I often laid on my belly,” Reuben Drummond wrote in letters to his Uncle Jim, “ducking shells and wondered whether I would ever get back again. You cannot realize the satisfaction it gives me now to know that I have done everything I could.”

Reuben’s son, Don Drummond, of Wilton, said he was most impressed with the fact that his father had asked to work the front lines. Reuben Drummond began his war service as a clerk in the 29th Division headquarters in France.

Reuben Drummond said in those letters home that after a day or so of doing clerical work and staying in a dugout all the time, he realized he wanted to do something worthwhile, so he asked to be given charge of the pigeon service in the division.

Don Drummond said at the time, the Germans would listen into telephone lines, so when it got dicey up at the front, the Army would send messages by carrier pigeons.

Don Drummond said his father would have a rifleman with him in case the pigeon headed toward German lines however the well-trained French pigeons always went in the right direction.

One of the 600 carrier pigeons that served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps was Cher Ami, who is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. On her last mission, she was shot through the breast and leg by German fire, yet managed to return the message capsule dangling from her wounded leg.

For her heroic service, Cher Ami was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with palm, was later inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame in 1931, and received a gold medal from the Organized Bodies of American Pigeon Fanciers, according to her biography on the the National Museum of American History website.

Service records show that Reuben Drummond enlisted in the New Jersey Signal Corps on May 31, 1917. The National Guard troops were considered state militias until the the troops were federalized and drafted into the U.S. Army. On Aug. 5, 1917 he and his unit were sent to train in Camp McClellan in Anniston, Alabama.

The U.S. War Department established Camp McClellan as a one of the permanent National Guard facilities. There, troops were taught trench warfare and trained to combat poisonous gas. The division was comprised of National Guard units from Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia, according to the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission website.

Don Drummond said his father had been gassed at one point during his time in France, yet did not get hospitalized.

“Pretty much everybody who was on the front lines got gassed at one time or another,” Don Drummond said. “Most of the people who had been exposed to gas never reported it because it was just one of those things; except those who were seriously affected.”

In April 1918, Reuben Drummond transferred into the 29th Division Signal Corps Detachment, and departed for France in June 1918. In Semur, Cote d’Or, France, he participated in the Defense of Center Sector Haute Alsace from July 25 1918 to Sept. 23 1918. He then went on to participate in Meuse-Argonne Offensive from Oct. 8-29, 1918, according to service records.

The U.S. Signal Corps is a branch of the Army that develops, test, provides and manages communication and information system support for the command and control of all combined armed forces. Following the Civil War, the corps became responsible for Army photography, established a pigeon service, and developed the telegraph according to the U.S. National Guard website.

Don Drummond said due to the lack of transport, his father wasn’t discharged until spring 1919.

Because his mother passed away when he was 3 years old, Don Drummond said he and his father always shared a close bond.

“He was always my hero,” said Don Drummond. “See I never really knew my mother, so he was my mother and father all rolled into one.”

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