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Authors: Terry Deary

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I packed some food, put the pigeon basket on my back and climbed into a lorry. We clattered over broken roads for twenty painful miles then the driver stopped. ‘This is as far as it goes.'

Wolfie stepped down and looked into the distant, dark-green hills. ‘See that forest over there?'

‘Around five miles off?' I said.

‘We walk.'

The autumn fields were soft with rain and shattered by shells. Slimy green water gathered in the shell holes and the smell was sour as one of Pa's pig pens.

We reached the top of a hill and looked down into a valley. Wolfie pointed. ‘The 77th were down there when I left them. There are Germans to the right and Germans to the left as well as straight ahead.'

I nodded, and felt a sharp blow to the top of my head as a bullet struck my helmet. If I hadn't dipped my head just then, it would have emptied my brains onto the muddy grass.

I stood there like the dummy they called me. Wolfie grabbed my arm and threw me to the ground. I felt the pigeons flap and squawk as their basket tumbled. But
the strangest sound was Wolfie Owens laughing.

‘I was shot,' I groaned. ‘What's so funny?'

He wiped a tear of laughter away. ‘I said there were Germans either side and straight ahead. Well, I was wrong. There are Germans behind us as well. We're cut off, Trooper Clay. Welcome to the 77th, because they're our only hope. If you know how to run then get down this hill and into the trees as fast as you can.'

I picked myself up, strapped on the pigeons and ran for my life.

Chapter 6
Puddles and prayers

Gunfire crackled like a dry log on our kitchen stove back in Kansas as I ran towards the shelter of the trees.

Behind me, Wolfie was walking backwards, firing his rifle from the hip, to make the enemy keep their heads down till I reached safety. He was risking his life to save the pigeons.

The enemy were keeping their heads so low they couldn't see where they were
firing but the machine guns were rattling like woodpeckers.

I got a shock when a pale face appeared from behind a bullet-beaten tree. ‘This way, soldier,' an American trooper cried. He had a tattered uniform and a scarred helmet.

I sprinted towards him, jumping over tree roots and skidding in muddy puddles,
till at last I had the massive tree between me and the machine guns.

Wolfie wandered in after me. ‘Hi, Crow,' Wolfie said to the soldier. ‘This is Dummy.'

‘Pleased to meet you, Dummy… and really pleased to meet your feathered passengers. This way.' The man led us through bushes into the strange stillness of the wood.

Wolfie crunched through fallen branches. ‘They call him Crow because he's ragged as any scarecrow you ever met.'

‘We're in a bad way, Wolfie. The Germans are all around us. We have no food, not a lot of bullets, and no way of getting help… till now.'

‘We'll get a message out this afternoon,' Wolfie promised.

‘If help doesn't arrive in two days we're finished. Every day the Germans creep
closer and more of the men get shot. The only water is in a stream in a little valley. The Germans have a sniper watching it every minute. We send a man down to get water and we never see him again.'

We followed a path like a thread through the trees. At last we came to a clearing with a few dozen torn tents and some soldiers sitting around looking as miserable as turkeys on Christmas Eve.

An officer strutted across the clearing. He was a small man with thin hair and round spectacles with wire frames. ‘Who have we here?' he said, looking at me.

‘Private Joe Clay, sir. Messenger.'

He patted me on the shoulder. ‘Good man. I'm Major Whittlesey. Let's not waste any time. Get a bird ready and I'll write out a message.'

I fed the birds a little corn as he wrote down six numbers. ‘That's our map position,' Wolfie explained.

Then the major wrote, ‘Cut off. Low on food and bullets. Send help as soon as possible.'

I took the small slip of paper and folded it so it fitted the small can on the bird's leg. The weary troop of men gathered to watch as I lifted the pigeon over my head and threw it upwards. Two hundred grey faces
looked up. Some of the pale lips moved as if they were saying prayers.

The bird soared above the trees and began to fly in wide circles. It was looking for its way back to the pigeon loft. There were rifle cracks from the hillside above us.

The pigeon fell from the sky. Two hundred men groaned.

Chapter 7
Splinters and stones

That night was the worst I'd ever known. Men moaned in their sleep from pain or hunger. From time to time shots rang out as the enemy crept through the moonlit trees and our guards fired.

I slipped down to the stream at the bottom of the bank. I filled cans with water and waited for a bullet to hit me. That bullet never arrived. But the waiting was terrible.

The major decided to send the second pigeon at first light, before the enemy were awake. But as the sky turned a pale pigeon grey, a heavy shell landed at the edge of the camp, tore away tents and wounded more of the troop.

I found Wolfie helping to bandage Crow's leg where a splinter of shell had hit
him. ‘The Germans are using the heavy guns on us now.'

Crow said, ‘That wasn't a German shell. It came from the west. It was an American shell.'

‘They're firing at us?' I gasped.

‘They're firing at us because they don't know we're here. Get that pigeon away and tell them to stop,' the man moaned. His uniform was in shreds too tattered for any scarecrow.

The major was scribbling a note that I fastened to the second pigeon's leg. He was a silvery colour and seemed too bright in the rising sun. A man with a rifle should not be able to hit a flying pigeon. But the Germans had a wonderful shot. I hoped he was still asleep.

He wasn't.

The pigeon rose. There was a single shot.

The bird hung in the air and then dropped like a stone.

There was a shriek and a rush of air that tore through the branches above us as another shell came from our American gunners. We were sheltered by the trees but pieces of shell rained down on us and sliced and stung. Crow gave a weak chuckle. ‘You all look as ragged as me now.'

I pulled the last pigeon from its basket.

I could feel his heart beating in fear, and struggled to hold him as the message was wrapped round his leg.

‘Pray this one's luckier,' the Major said, grim and red-eyed behind those thick glasses.

‘He's called Cher Ami,' I said.

‘Let's hope Dear Friend makes it back to our dear friends.'

I threw Cher Ami into the air. The bird flapped and twisted, and perched on the stump of a tree, lost and afraid. Wolfie jumped to his feet and picked up some of the branches that the last shell had blown down. He began to throw them up at Cher Ami.

He gathered stones that clattered into the tree below Cher Ami's perch. The pigeon turned his little ink-pool eyes on him and stretched his wings, ready to fly if one came too close.

Other men picked themselves up and joined in the effort. At last Cher Ami fluttered and took off. He began his circles to find the way home. The men cheered.

BOOK: The Pigeon Spy
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