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Authors: Terry Deary

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There was a single shot.

The black pigeon spread his wings and glided back down towards the trees, not hurt, but not going anywhere.

‘Our last hope,' the Major muttered.

‘Fly, Cher Ami, fly!' I cried.

Some men said it was a miracle. I like to think that pigeon heard the voice of the boy who'd fed and cared for him for weeks.
Either way, those wings started to beat and lift him into the morning sky of lemon and scarlet. He wheeled around, searching. Then he flew straight. To the west. To his loft.

Maybe the German rifleman had as big a surprise as we had, because Cher Ami was on the way home before he could shoot again. The men in the camp hugged one another and gathered round to slap my back. ‘Fly, Cher Ami, fly,' they cried and laughed.

‘What now?' Crow asked.

‘We wait,' the Major said quietly. ‘We wait.'

Chapter 8
Darkness and deer

It was a week before I found out what happened.

It took Cher Ami an hour to fly those twenty-five miles back to his loft. When he landed a buzzer sounded. An officer looked in the loft in to see which of the birds had come home.

Cher Ami was lying on his back and covered with blood. He'd been blinded in one eye and shot in the breast. His leg had been shot and was hanging on by a
thread. And on that thread was the major's message – the message that saved two hundred lives.

Cher Ami had somehow lived to fly home. It was the miracle that our men had been praying for.

We knew Cher Ami had reached the loft with our message when the heavy shells stopped falling.

But it would take time for a rescue group to get through. That afternoon it started to rain. With the tents torn we slept in the mud and ripped up our vests to make bandages.

Night came and I saw shadows of our enemy behind every tree. In the cloudy moon every twig looked like a rifle pointing straight at me.

I don't know if I slept. I talked to Wolfie and Crow about what we'd do when the war ended.

‘I think I'll raise pigeons,' I said in the damp dark.

‘I'll help you,' Crow offered. ‘I'll grow corn to feed them.'

Wolfie laughed. ‘You can stand in the middle of the corn field and be your own scarecrow.'

Crow was annoyed. ‘What are you going to do on our pigeon farm?'

‘Eat them,' the big man chuckled.

The longest night of my life passed with laughter.

When the sun rose the Major gave me a rifle and sent me to the edge of the clearing on guard. He was weary and red-eyed. ‘If you see the enemy, pull the trigger. You may not hit him but at least we'll know where the attack is coming from.'

The morning dragged by. Everything that moved scared me. I almost fired at a squirrel, a blackbird and a frightened deer. When I saw the face of a man I closed my eyes and squeezed the trigger.

‘Cut that out!' came a cry from the green gloom of the trees. ‘We're here to help.' The voice was American.

I think I cried.

The rescuers had cleared a path through the enemy that let us walk the twenty-five miles back to our camp. We ate good hot
food but at first it made the men's empty stomachs sick. We limped on broken boots till they found us some new ones. We carried the wounded over the rough fields.

It took us three days to make that trip. Some of the men were so weak we had to stop and rest every mile. At last lorries arrived to carry us.

When we reached the camp I saw the most amazing sight. Every soldier and officer stood in a line that stretched a hundred yards to the camp gates. The lorries stopped and we walked that last stretch. And every step we took was cheered and clapped by the waiting troops.

‘What's going on?' I asked Wolfie.

‘They're calling us the “Lost Battalion”,' he said.

‘It looks like we're heroes,' Crow said.

But for me there was just one hero.

Chapter 9
Pigeon and peg

‘We saved his life,' the doctor said. ‘I patched up his chest. He had a hole big enough to put your thumb in. I don't know how he flew twenty-five miles like that.'

‘Courage,' I said.

The doctor led the way into the medical hut where Cher Ami lay on a bed of straw. His eye looked dull, but I'll swear that when he heard my voice it went bright and he struggled to stand up.

‘What's that?' I gasped.

The doctor smiled. ‘His leg was wrecked, so one of the guys made him a wooden leg.'

‘He saved us all,' Wolfie said.

‘You wouldn't eat this little star, would you, Wolfie?' Crow asked.

‘Eat him? I'd pin a medal on him.'

The doctor nodded. ‘You're not the first to say that. The French Army want to give him their Cross of War – a hero's medal. The press all want his picture. As soon as he's fit enough to travel he'll be taken back to America.'

And that's how Cher Ami became a hero. Me? They checked up on me and found I was too young to fight. Wolfie and Crow were sent back to the front lines. I hope they got through the war all right.

They sent me home on a troop ship. Cher Ami went on a fine ocean liner with a US Army General to wave him off.

I only got to see that feathered fighter once more. Ma drove us down to Great Bend about a year after the war was over. We picked up a newspaper and there was a picture of Cher Ami on the front page.

He'd died in September 1919. Pigeons don't live all that long anyway, but his wounds finally did for him.

Now, you and I die and get buried. But not a hero pigeon. Cher Ami's little one-legged body was stuffed and they put him in a glass case in the National Museum of
American History. I went to see him there. Just the once. To say goodbye.

Life is tough. Sometimes Kansas dust storms wreck our crops. Sometimes I just want to give up. That's when I look up at my pigeons in the sky and half close my eyes, and I think I see Cher Ami up there.

‘Hello, buddy,' I say. ‘You kept going with one eye, one leg and a hole in your chest.
I can keep going through a little old dust storm.'

That's why we need heroes. They remind us that things are never that bad.

We need that. And it doesn't matter if that hero is a man, a woman, or the bravest bird that ever flew.

Cher Ami.

Epilogue

Messenger pigeons were very important in the First World War. Nineteen out of twenty got through. Over a hundred thousand were used in the war.

Some of these pigeons became quite famous among the soldiers. One pigeon named ‘The Mocker' flew 52 times before he was wounded. Another was named ‘President Wilson'. He was hit by a bullet in the last week of the war and it seemed he could never reach his loft. Though he lost his foot, he made it and saved a large group of American soldiers.

Cher Ami spent several months in the battles of Autumn 1918. He flew twelve times to carry messages.

The most famous flight was on 3 October 1918. Major Charles Whittlesey's
troop of Americans was trapped behind enemy lines, being shelled by their own side. Somehow they had to get a message to their comrades. The only way was by pigeon. But every time a pigeon rose in the air it was shot down. The last pigeon, Cher Ami, was shot but somehow managed to fly 25 miles in just 65 minutes, helping to save the lives of the 194 survivors. He'd been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, covered in blood and had a leg hanging only by a tendon. Army doctors saved his life. They could not save his leg, so they carved a small wooden one for him. When he was well enough, he was put on a boat to the United States, a hero.

His one-legged body is still on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

WORLD WAR I TALES

This electronic edition published in September 2013 by Bloomsbury Publishing

Text copyright © 2013 Terry Deary
Illustrations copyright © 2013 James de la Rue
Cover illustration © 2013 Chris Mould

First published 2013 by A & C Black
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
50 Bedford Square,
London, WC1B 3DP
www.bloomsbury.com

The rights of Terry Deary and James de la Rue to be identified as the author and illustrator of this work have been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

BOOK: The Pigeon Spy
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