Pigeons may be flying rats to Ken Livingstone and thousands of other Londoners - but to some, they are war heroes. And worth a pretty penny in portrait form. Oil paintings depicting the birds who flew back and forth during two world wars, acting as spies and messengers have been sold at auction for astonishing prices.
Sold by Bonhams auction house, the eight oil paintings were purchased mostly by an unnamed buyer who placed bids by phone. Rather like bidding for things on the late night auctions on TV but with an incredibly big price tag that would halt even the most motor-mouthed Price Bid TV presenter: we will never hear those bright-eyed purveyors of steam cleaners declaring "$20,789 to the mystery caller!"
The original owner of the paintings is one Jack Lovell who provided 200 specially bred Belgian pigeons on the Dover coast and was a key part of a Royal Navy plan to get information to and from the French resistance on the other side of the Channel. Mr Lovell, now 92 and who was unable to attend the auction, can enjoy a pretty nest egg and rest satisfied that his birds have their appreciative followers. The report includes military experiments on pigeons being dropped from aeroplanes in parachutes and a story about Cher Ami who is honoured by the Smithsonian Museum for flying back behind American lines despite horrific injuries in 1919, with one last crucial message from a presumed 'Lost Battalion'. It saved the lives of 194 soldiers and was awarded the French Croix de Guerre.
Nice to know that after all the habitual pigeon-bashing we like to indulge in these birds have finally had their worth valued (as paintings, anyway) and can enjoy more time in the spotlight than a few minutes perching on the Animals Of War monument along Park Lane.