Homing pigeons, historical novels, and Italy

In the author’s note of a historical novel I read this week, I learned that a homing pigeon named G. I. Joe saved the village of Calvi Vecchia, and the British soldiers who had wrested the village from German occupiers, during World War II.

G.I. Joe received the Dickin Medal for gallantry. He died in 1961, and is now displayed at Fort Monmouth, NJ.

Calvi Vecchia, about 25 km northwest of Caserta, was occupied by the Germans, and Allied air forces were requested to help dislodge them. British infantry were able to liberate the village ahead of schedule but weren’t able to radio the allies’ airfield to call off their attack.

G. I. Joe was released with the message, and carried it to the airfield twenty miles away in just twenty minutes, arriving as the planes were preparing to take off — just in time to prevent the bombing of Calvi Vecchia.

Award-winning author Kate Breslin features homing pigeons in her WWI novel, Far Side of the Sea. Her story, set in 1918, takes British Lieutenant Colin Mabry, struggling to recover from shell shock and injuries, back into France to help the French girl, Jewel, who had saved his life the prior year. With twists and turns like the Amalfi coast road, the plot pulled me along as Colin met Jewel’s sister Johanna. Together they searched for Jewel and her father, encountered spies from all sides, and questioned who they could trust. While Johanna longs to find the only family she has left, Colin seeks God’s purpose and plan for his life after military duty. Breslin’s colorful writing, and the satisfying conclusion, make this a book I recommend!

The book itself has no link to The Italian South, but I was intrigued by Breslin’s mention of G. I Joe in the back matter. I’m always delighted to find tidbits of southern Italy in unexpected places!