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Wick And District Pigeon Club History

28th May 2004

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Photograph of Wick And District Pigeon Club History


DR Simpson, Grover Clyne, John Hoodall names familiar to Wickers past and present as stalwarts on the business scene, but how many would know they were among the founding fathers of the Caithness Homing Club, set up 100 years ago to provide a focus for local racing-pigeon enthusiasts? In the days before TV and widespread car ownership, communities like Wick had thriving sports/arts/hobby sceneshard to believe now, but the 1904 Fur & Feather Show had 600 exhibitors for a 3-day event!

With the first World War having seen homing pigeons used in large numbers as battlefield messengers, it was a natural progression for the Wick fanciers to provide pigeons to the National Pigeon Service during World War 2. Birds from the Club, renamed the Wick Homing Club in 1920, were regular active service fliers, with four 40ft lofts at Wick Airport. The pigeons were carried on planes in containers, to be released carrying positional information when operational sorties ended in the aircraft coming down at sea or in hostile territory.Wick-bred pigeons flew many sorties and their exploits are recorded in detail in the book Pigeons in two World Wars. Many downed airmen owed their recovery and their lives to the homing instincts of these feathered service personnel. Local birds were supplied by, among others, such noted fanciers as David Swanson (Swanny), Arthur Bruce and Master Baker Wildag Miller, fast becoming as famous for his flying successes as for his ice-cream and pies. Having joined the club in 1913, Wildag started a successful flying dynasty that survives to this day through his son Callum, grandson Michael and now great-grandson William.

Nowadays, due to increasing prosperity and technological advances, every racing-pigeon fancier has his own clock for timing birds home, but up to the 1940s there were only 2 clockstations-1 in Pulteney at Bob Sutherland the blacksmiths in Macrae St and the other on the Wick side at Swannys in Coach Road. Young boys like Willie Harper were employed as runners to get the rings from returning birds to the clocks as fast as possible. They were allowed 4 minutes per mile on foot, 2 minutes by bike, no allowance at all for cars, of which there were few anyway. There were allegations of dirty tricks like slotting the pigeon rings into tennis balls and throwing them down the street in relays to illegally improve the times!

The 1940s,1950s and 1960s were the peak years, both in membership and success terms. By the 60s everyone had their own clocks and at one time there were 14 active fanciers in the Kennedy, Cairndhuna and Oldwick area alone. In 1969 the name changed again, to Wick and District Flying Club, but is now the Wick and District Pigeon Club to avoid confusion with local powered flight enthusiasts.
In a world-wide sport with a membership of many thousands and its own Pigeon Olympiads, the Wick-based flyers have made the headlines several times, despite the distances and weather extremes often experienced in the North. A Wick pigeon features in the Guinness Book of Records, with the Arthur Bruce/Angie Rosie flyer coming home to Wick from Barcelona to claim the British long-distance record of 1173 miles. Callum Miller has had 2 outstanding successes, with the first bird ever timed on race day from Hastings in 1969 after the club trying since 1950, and the first ever timed in from Rennes in France in 1971. This remarkable time would have been better but the bird flew 715 miles only to find Callum hadnt got his clock to hand!

Although the membership has declined somewhat, the sport still makes for an absorbing, competitive interest for young and old alike, and is noted for the willingness of the members to impart advice, share experiences, and help out young fanciers with start-up stock. When one of the great mysteries, and the great challenge, is why and how these birds strive to return to their home base, there is no mystery as to why the Wick and District Pigeon Club have made it to the 100 mark- a determination to be the best and never give in.


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