Edward Banks, pigeon trainer
Edward (Teddy) Banks of 159 Whitelock St., raised homing pigeons almost all his life. He was hooked by the age of 10, when a veteran pigeon trainer in his native England gave him a pair of pigeons. Eggs from his racing pigeons were shipped around the world and his racing trophies were many. While the sport is often considered the poor man’s Ascot, Banks donated eggs and birds in support of the Allies in the Second World War.
Banks (1877-1972) was a First World War veteran, born in Middlesex, England, in 1876, who married, came to Canada, and first lived at 35 St. David St. He was gassed at Ypres, and was invalided home with severe lung damage. He was a member of the Classic Racing Pigeon Club, founded in Stratford in 1919, and later of the Stratford and District Racing Pigeon Club. His days as a plumber were over after the First World War, but he still made a contribution to the Second World War effort from his Whitelock Street home.
Joyce Banks Fischer remembers her grandfather, and her father, George Banks (1903-1950), working with the pigeons together. “Grampa raised them; my Dad trained them.” It usually took about three weeks to train a young bird to “home” with flights starting from as little as 100 yards away. After being shipped, they needed to be kept in their new home for a few weeks, until they learned to “home” from their new lofts. They donated eggs and birds already trained to the war effort. Their work and the support they gave to others in the Second World War saved lives."
The pigeon coops were behind the Whitelock Street house, where they made a great place for grandkids to play.
Teddy Banks was highly respected for his extensive knowledge of pigeons and racing. “I remember the street would be lined with cars on weekends with licences from all over Canada and the United States; people came from everywhere to learn about pigeons and racing from my grandfather. He received hundreds of testimonials and letters from different countries”
There were 250,000 pigeons in the National Pigeon Service during the Second World War and, though thousands lost their lives, the birds delivered almost 100,000 messages. Each message could be sealed in a small metal tube and attached to the bird’s leg or placed in a thin pouch on the back. Vital intelligence made it to the right hands. Hundreds of rescues. Hundreds of lives saved.
Their bravery didn’t go unnoticed. The pigeons were awarded the prestigious Dickin Medal, first introduced in 1943 in England for animal gallantry. The first recipients were three pigeons who contributed to the recovery of airmen from ditched aircraft that year.
In Stratford, Dock and Teddy Banks, father and son, did their part. Pigeons require a safe, dry, ventilated pigeon loft, with food, water, and grit such as crushed oyster shell and crushed granite to support their digestion. That was looked after by Teddy Banks at his home. The average pigeon in the First World War could fly only about 200 miles at a time; the average Second World War pigeon could easily manage 400, and sometimes 600 miles.
Some of the Banks pigeons saved hundreds of lives in China in the 1930s, when Japan was invading that country. Entire communities were evacuated because pigeons brought advance news of the Japanese attack. One of the Banks pigeons also played an important role in helping to destroy five Nazi submarines in the Atlantic, 150 miles from Britain. The pigeon released from a reconnaissance plane which spotted the subs reached its home base in about three hours. Aircraft were dispatched to the scene. A radio message from the reconnaissance plane would have alerted the enemy. After the war, the British war office sent a letter thanking Dock Banks for his role in that venture. As Joyce Banks Fischer recalled, “The pigeons were most reliable; they kept radio-silence.”
Source: Banks family history from Joyce Banks Fisher to Gordon Conroy
Note: For more information of Heroic Pigeons in the War see below