Paddy the Pigeon – Dickin Medal recipient from Co. Antrim

In September 1944, Paddy received the Dickin Medal for his role bringing encoded messages from Normandy. He was a racing pigeon bred in Carnlough, Co. Antrim.


NPS 43-9451

Throughout the Second World War, many from Northern Ireland were decorated for their service. Among them, one of the lesser known medal recipients of the conflict simply went by the name of Paddy, service number NPS 43-9451. This valiant hero served with the Royal Air Force in Air-Sea Rescue before taking part in the Normandy campaign. But Paddy was no normal combatant. Paddy was a racing pigeon from Carnlough, Co. Antrim.

Captain Andrew S. Hughes J.P., a veteran of The Great War, owned and bred Paddy. John McMullan, a local pigeon fancier from Carnlough assisted with his training. Born in 1943, Paddy was soon seeing service with the Royal Air Force at Ballykelly, Co. Londonderry where he took part in Air-Sea Rescue missions. His speed and skill impressed the military and he was soon on his way to R.A.F. Hurn, Dorset, England for his greatest mission. The military used many pigeons as messengers. On 8th June 1944, Paddy was seconded to the United States First Army to take part in a secret mission codenamed U2.

Paddy in Normandy

At 0815hrs on 12th June 1944, Paddy’s secret mission began. Carrying encrypted information about the Allied invasion, the racer flew 230 miles back to the loft at R.A.F. Hurn in a record 4 hours and 50 minutes. That’s an average speed of 56 miles per hour. This was the fastest time recorded by any of the racing pigeons in service during Operation OVERLORD. The journey was a perilous one. As well as the usual aerial threats of wartime, a number of hawks in the hands of German units had the sole purpose of taking down Paddy and his comrades.

On 1st September 1944, Paddy received the Dickin Medal. Introduced in 1943 by Maria Dickin the founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, this award is the highest accolade afforded to animals in military service. It is often described as the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. The citation read:

For the best recorded time with a message from the Normandy operations, while serving with the R.A.F. in June 1944.

D-Day Fliers Decorated

Paddy the Pigeon received the Dickin Medal - the animal equivalent of a V.C. in 1944 for his role in bringing home news of the successful Normandy Landings.

After the Second World War, Paddy returned to life in Carnlough, Co. Antrim where he died in 1954 at the age of 11 years old. To date, he remains the only recipient of the Dickin Medal from Northern Ireland.

Commemorated in Carnlough

On 19th September 2009, to mark the 65th anniversary of the awarding of the Dickin Medal, a commemorative event took place. John McMullan, who had helped train Paddy, unveiled a commemorative plaque on the harbour wall in Carnlough.

Paddy was the last pigeon to be let go by the Americans in Normandy and he was the first one home. He was the best of the lot, the best of thousands.

Sadly, 88-year-old John passed away only four days later. The plaque reads:

During World War II, pigeons were used by the forces as message carriers. Paddy was one of thirty pigeons delivered by the R.A.F. Hurn to operational units of the First U.S. Army on June 8th, 1944. They were to be used in connection with a secret task, code named “U2.” Paddy was released in Normandy at around 8.15am on June 12th, carrying coded information on the Allied advance. He returned to his loft in Hampshire in just 4 hours and 50 minutes. This was the fastest time recorded by a message-carrying pigeon during the Normand landings. For his services, Paddy was awarded the Dickin Medal on September 1st, 1944. He had previously served at R.A.F. Ballykelly on Air-Sea rescue missions. Andrew Hughes J.P., of Carnlough was the proud owner of Paddy. He handed over several of his pigeons to be trained, along with others, for service with the Forces. Paddy lived for eleven years, and to date, is the only Irish recipient of the Dickin Medal, which is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Larne and District Historical Society MMIX.

At the Londonderry Arms Hotel, following the unveiling of the plaque John Ritchie performed a song named ‘Paddy The Pigeon’ composed by Liam Kelly.

At a 2009 event at Larne Museum and Arts Centre, local councillors and the local historical society welcomed guests from the P.D.S.A. Also present was former Irish Army officer Kevin Spring, who currently owns Paddy’s medal. A flypast of racing pigeons contributed to the spectacle of the day and children’s author Gail Seekamp read from her book ‘Paddy The Pigeon’. On the day, P.D.S.A. spokesperson James Puxty said:

Paddy’s contribution to the D-Day operations was a credit to the thousands of messenger pigeons donated by the racing pigeon fraternity for service during World War II. He was one of 32 brave, feathered heroes that received the P.D.S.A. Dickin Medal for their life-saving flights during the war, and the only recipient from Northern Ireland.

Carnlough in 2024

On the night of 8th June 2024, just two days after a commemorative ceremony in the village, the plaque to mark Paddy's heroics was destroyed.

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