Struggling in the freezing waters, the crew remembered one piece of vital equipment, a blue chequered hen, number NEHU 40 NSL. It was a long shot, but she was their only chance as the crew did not have time to radio an accurate position before ditching.
Winkie was set free and flew 120 miles home to Broughty Ferry, where her owner, George Ross discovered the exhausted pigeon. He alerted the airbase at RAF Leuchars in Fife, and a search and rescue mission was launched.
Using the time difference from the plane ditching to the arrival of the pigeon in the loft, and taking into account the wind direction and the inhibition to her flight speed caused by oil spoilage to her feathers, the RAF were able to approximate where the plane ditched. Within 15 minutes the crew’s position had been located and a rescue vessel dispatched.
On 2 December 1943, Winkie was awarded the Dickin Medal. The citation read "for delivering a message under exceptional difficulties and so contributing to the rescue of an Air Crew while serving with the RAF in February 1942." Winkie received her medal from Maria Dickin in March 1943.
The crew were rescued and later held a dinner for Winkie, who basked in her cage as she was toasted by the officers.
When Winkie died, Ross donated her and her Dickin Medal to Dundee Art Galleries and Museums.
In popular culture
- "Animal war heroes statue unveiled". BBC News. 24 November 2004. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
- Herbert, Ian (23 March 2005). "The hero of the latest British war movie is a pigeon called Valiant. A flight of fancy? No, it's based on real life". The Independent. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
- BBC: A History Of The World
- Longdon, David (6 May 2016). "Winkie". David Longdon Blog. Retrieved 4 June 2016.