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HomeNewsCharles the Pigeon and a Batley Spy Get hold of US

Charles the Pigeon and a Batley Spy Get hold of US

That is the story of an unsung Batley hero, dwelling behind enemy strains and finishing up works of espionage and sabotage throughout World Struggle One. His adopted pigeon Charles performed an vital half within the Yorkshireman’s wartime exploits. Their daring deeds learn extra like a boy’s journey story than actual life. However it is a true story of wartime braveness, and one which deserves wider telling.

George William Richardson was born in Hunslet in 1859, and baptised at Thornhill parish church. His mother and father had been Thornhill-born glass bottle maker Benjamin Richardson and Mary Peace, who married at Hunslet St Mary’s earlier that 12 months. George was the eldest of their 15 kids. The Richardson household had been well-known within the Batley space, with George being the nephew of native dyer Edward Richardson.

George spent his early years in Liverpool the place his father, Benjamin, labored. However by the mid-1870s Benjamin modified profession and moved to Batley the place he arrange enterprise as a grocer and provision supplier within the Mount Nice space. The household residence was in Denison Road, Purlwell.

A eager younger all-round sportsman, George performed within the forwards for the Batley Mountaineers Rugby Soccer staff. He additionally gained trophies for long-distance operating and strolling. This included first prize of two bronze vases on marble pedestals for the 2 miles’ stroll on the Dewsbury United Clerk’s Sports activities at Crown Flatt in July 1878; the next month a timepiece and a guinea for first in that distance on the Heckmondwike Soccer Membership Athletic competition; and second place over the identical distance in a controversial stroll within the first Batley Hospital Sports activities competition, additionally in August 1878 – so controversial the occasion was dropped from the next 12 months’s programme.1 One article reported that he additionally gained the Yorkshire Curler Skating Championship.2

George William Richardson

Described as a typical grim, bluff, wily Yorkshireman “quiet, dogged, and filled with useful resource…”,3 he transferred the identical perseverance and dedication he utilized to achieve sport, to his working life.

It was in Batley that George started his grounding in varied components of the textile commerce. His early job historical past included working within the slicing division at Messrs. G. and J. Stubley’s Bottoms Mill. He was additionally employed as a dyer at his uncle Edward’s Howley Financial institution dye works.

He left Batley within the early Eighties initially for Austria, after which on to France the place he labored as soon as extra as a dyer, ultimately saving sufficient cash to purchase the dyehouse through which he was employed.

In December 1886 he travelled from his then residence within the French metropolis of Tourcoing, on the border with Belgium, throughout to the British Legation (a Diplomatic Mission extra frequent than Embassies on this interval) in Brussels to marry Rebecca Willby.

By the early twentieth century George’s enterprise was flourishing. In 1906 he owned what was described as “most likely the biggest dyehouse in France”.4 His portfolio now additionally included a textile manufacturing unit in Roubaix, a French city adjoining to Tourcoing, the city through which he and his household settled. He was dwelling right here in 1906 along with his spouse Rebecca, daughter Gertrude, and sons Alphonse, Frédéric and Georges.5

The G. W. Richardson and Co. manufacturing unit in Roubaix was based in 1898, and was initially often known as Lemaire frères et Richardson. It manufactured fancy coatings and women’ cloths. By February 1906 it employed over 500 fingers.6 This was the month George Richardson obtained the Chevalier du Advantage Agricole, which the British press equated to a knighthood. When this honour was created in 1883, it was second solely to the Legion of Honour within the French order of priority.

Charles the Pigeon and a Batley Spy Get hold of US Obtain US
The Richardson Manufacturing facility, Roubaix, pictured in 1923

As enterprise grew, different specialities of the manufacturing unit included renaissance carded wool material, pure wool material, material, gown and cap material, material for the railways, and army sheets, with commerce together with supplying governments.

George all the time retained his love and satisfaction for Yorkshire, reminiscing about his days in “expensive outdated Batley”,7 and even within the late Nineteen Twenties declaring “I’m Yorkshire by and thru”.8 Over 40 years after leaving the district, he was described as being “as Yorkshire to-day as ever” each in method and speech.9 He remained in contact along with his Batley buddies, trying ahead to coming over for a cup of tea with them, and he often visited his mother and father. Though his father died in 1912, his mom remained in Batley, dwelling in a tiny one-roomed cottage in Chapel Fold, Staincliffe, till her loss of life in 1926, regardless of George urgent her to maneuver to a bigger home.

Curiously, although, in post-war experiences – notably in Leeds newspapers – his Batley hyperlinks weren’t talked about, the emphasis being Leeds (and a few newspapers even mentioned the Bradford district!) The Batley Information had been so indignant as to level out to its readers that he was a local of Batley, not Leeds as said in a number of of the day by day papers.10

He was visiting household in Batley in September 1914 through the first weeks of the conflict, while certainly one of his sons was a scholar at Leeds College. Each rushed again to Roubaix, his son to affix his two brothers who had been about to enlist within the French military. All three boys ended up as prisoners of conflict on the infamous Wittenberg camp, however had been ultimately transferred to Ruhleben camp – probably as a result of a German officer, who had earlier than the conflict completed enterprise with the Richardson’s Roubaix mill, recognised them.11 All three brothers survived the conflict.

In mid-October 1914, the German Military occupied Roubaix and remained there for the subsequent 4 years. This marked the beginning of George’s exploits. Because the Germans threatened to overrun Roubaix, he took the identification of a Belgian he carefully resembled and adjusted his title to Dupont, although it seems this change didn’t final lengthy.

Charles the Pigeon and a Batley Spy Get hold of US Obtain US
George Richardson, photographed with a beard through the conflict in disguise as Belgian lookalike M. Dupont.

As an proprietor of a significant mill, George refused to make fabric for German uniforms and was taken earlier than the Commandant who threatened to shoot him if he didn’t begin the machines. He coolly replied “Will you get your fabric in the event you shoot me?12 The Commandant drew again from his risk. George was proud to say “Not one yard of material was made for the Germans on a regular basis they held my mills”.13 For each time the cloth-making course of appeared more likely to begin, one thing would all the time mysteriously go fallacious. As George recalled with a chuckle, “I diddled them each time.14

His acts of sabotage commenced proper from the early days of the conflict, because the Germans had been approaching. He and his trusted foreman took all of the important elements out of the machines and buried them in a shed a mile away. The pair then changed the important thing equipment elements with cracked ones, rendering the machines unusable.

The mill additionally had a tunnel and false wall behind which copper was tightly packed. In consequence, he managed to hide round £20,000 price of the metallic. Although there was one very fortunate escape in a while within the conflict, when a bunch of armed troopers made a sudden mill inspection. They examined each nook and cranny, the officer in cost insisting on descending each stairway and probing each nook of the basement, the labyrinth particulars of which few past George knew. The officer turned inquisitive about one of many partitions – the false one behind which the copper was hidden. However as a result of it was so tightly packed, tapping it produced no suspicion of hollowness, which means the copper was not found. Additionally they bored into the ground, however missed the tunnel.

The Germans arrived earlier than the duty of incapacitating the mill and eradicating useful supplies was totally full, so some gadgets had been carried out underneath the noses of the enemy. George and his trusted worker went to the mill nearly day by day underneath the pretence of making an attempt to get the equipment working. They all the time got here away with bits of lead, which they smuggled previous the pair of fixed-bayoneted German troopers. It’s estimated George threw three tons of lead stealthily into the canal by this implies. A number of bicycles had been dismantled and equally disposed of. George additionally burned round six tons of sacking which the Germans would have used for sandbags.

All through the time his mills had been commandeered by the occupiers, George continued to cover copper tubes, connections and joints, so fabric couldn’t be woven. When the Germans deliberate to dress a few of their troopers in khaki uniforms to mislead the Allies, George had the dyestuffs organized so that each try at dying fabric the requisite shade resulted in failure.

Different thrilling tales included the time when, disguised as an Italian, George noticed a German soldier stealing potatoes from an outdated girl. He knocked the German down, after which noticed different Germans had been operating in the direction of him. He knelt down and started wiping the mud off the soldier’s face, and by the point the others arrived he was giving him brandy. As soon as the true story was found, that George was the assailant not a saviour, he was introduced in by the Germans and given a public flogging.

The Batley Information reported the Germans tried to assassinate George. They reported he was struck on the neck with a dagger however, though scarred for all times, he was spared.15 For an additional newspaper report George recalled:

An enormous Prussian darted at me one darkish evening and put a knife in my neck. I bowled him over. He was a well-educated man, for he begged on his knees for mercy in German, French, and English. 16

When the Germans turned suspicious of him, they despatched him to Austria by way of a cattle truck. The journey took three days and 4 nights. He obtained such extreme punishment by the hands of his captors that he determined to make them suppose their cruelty had affected his mind. The ruse succeeded and so they returned him to Roubaix, believing him to be a “innocent lunatic”.17 There he maintained the pretence.

The Germans, believing he was “daft18 and never realising he was a fluent German speaker, had been careless with their speak in entrance of him. It meant he gleaned an astonishing quantity of knowledge from them, intelligence which was then handed onto the Allies, by way of his daughter Gertrude.

It additionally resulted in additional slim escapes. As soon as, whereas carrying a despatch, he was arrested, (certainly one of round his six arrests throughout occupation). When the Germans had been taking him away, he pretended to slide to the bottom, and while he lay there he managed to swallow the two-inch sq. doc. Stripped, even the soles of his ft had been examined, nothing incriminating was discovered.

A few of George’s most harmful exploits concerned pigeons. A eager pigeon fancier earlier than the conflict, Charles the pigeon was left in George’s care when his proprietor, Felix Vanoutryve, went off to affix the French military. Charles was not any outdated pigeon. She (sure, Charles was a feminine) was a really particular hen. Bred by Messrs. Bracey and Cooke at Martham, Nice Yarmouth, the black magpie hen (hen being the time period for a feminine pigeon) was exhibited at Crystal Palace the place she gained first and Problem Cup, and was subsequently purchased by Essex pigeon fancier Frank Warner (later Sir Frank Warner) for £100, believed to be a world-record value in 1912. Later, Bracey and Cooke purchased a few of Warner’s pigeons, and Charles as soon as extra returned to Martham, earlier than then being bought to M. Vanoutryve and brought to Roubaix.19

Proudly owning a pigeon was forbidden in German-occupied territory. If found, the proprietor could possibly be shot. But regardless of the non-public threat, George didn’t take the straightforward choice and ring the pigeon’s neck. It led to a sequence of slim escapes for the Richardson household because the hen was hidden throughout repeated raids by the German occupiers.

On one event throughout a German home raid, Mrs Richardson hid Charles within the wash copper (a bath for heating water to scrub garments). She poured boiling water over the garments on the hen’s aspect, with a view to trick the Germans.

On one other event, when the Germans carried out an evening home raid, George had simply sufficient time to seize Charles, tie her wings and wrap her up within the bedclothes subsequent to his spouse earlier than the Germans entered the room. Because the raiding get together stood on the edge, he begged the officer in cost to make as little noise as potential as his spouse was ailing, probably with typhus – a doubtlessly deadly, infectious illness which may ravage troops. Unsurprisingly, the Germans left with out conducting a search.

One other incident occurred when a German patrol visited George’s manufacturing unit in quest of a bit of equipment. He and the German officer went right down to the basement the place the officer appeared to note Charles’ head protruding of a basket. George requested the German into his workplace, and distracted him with a bit of tapestry exhibiting outdated Heidelberg, and pressed him to affix him in ingesting his “final”20 bottle of champagne. The officer’s glass was crammed and refilled, till he turned a bit of “fuzzy.”21 He ultimately left, smoking a cigar, and made no remark in regards to the pigeon. However George was taking no possibilities. A small bantam hen was substituted for Charles within the basket, and Charles was hidden elsewhere. It proved a smart transfer. Shortly after, the officer returned, accompanied by two German troopers with mounted bayonets, and a gendarme. The entire get together went into the cellar, the place the gendarme seized the basket, regarded on the hen, after which identified to the officer it was not a pigeon, it was a bantam hen. Fooled by the change, they left in disgust.

On one other event, Charles couldn’t be discovered when a German sergeant went to the Richardson home to billet an officer. George mentioned the one lodging was on the second ground however, along with his foot on the steps, the sergeant mentioned German officers by no means slept on the second ground. The sergeant left, and when George went upstairs, he discovered Charles strutting alongside the second ground touchdown - the ground the sergeant had refused to take a look at.

George was amongst the outstanding Roubaix residents imprisoned at Güstrow Prisoner of Struggle camp, northern Germany, held hostage as a result of the municipality refused to pay a £6,000 high-quality imposed by Germany. While there, a pal in Belgium taken care of Charles.

As quickly as George was launched, he retrieved the hen, and carried her in his pocket over the German sentry-guarded border, again into France. Happily, Charles was accustomed to being stashed in pockets. Her standard hiding place was nestling in George’s coat pocket, with string over her wings. A number of instances on the journey again, George needed to conceal in ditches, after which make a touch for it. He estimated no less than a dozen photographs had been fired at him, and later he discovered a bullet had handed by his hat. The hat, together with Charles, had been exhibited at Crystal Palace in 1921.

When M. Vanoutryve returned to gather Charles after the conflict ended, and came upon in regards to the risks concerned in conserving her, he grasped George by the hand and mentioned, “You damned idiot!”22

His escapades with Charles weren’t his solely involvement with pigeons. An area baker introduced him a pigeon dropped in by the British, who requested they gather details about enemy regiments and ship it again to them by way of the hen. Regardless of realizing if caught he could be immediately shot, George obtained the knowledge, tied it to the pigeon and launched it early within the morning, although Germans had been billeted in his home.

Life was a grim battle in occupied Roubaix, meals was scarce, and folks died of hunger. However the Richardsons had been amongst the extra lucky, having cash. After being with out meat for 3 months, George was in a position to pay 12s. a pound for the flesh of a horse which had been killed by a shell.

By means of all of the hardships and tribulations, the Richardsons, and their different compatriots from England, clung collectively and talked of days of freedom and celebrations to come back, when their treasured bottles of wine could be introduced out from hiding locations. After his launch from Güstrow, on his return to Roubaix George secretly constructed an underground storage space through which to stash his valuables from the enemy.

In direction of the tip of the conflict, British army prisoners had been introduced in as soon as extra and put to work in Roubaix, on heavy, guide duties like loading stones on the canal and railway station. Some British prisoners had been housed within the Richardson’s idle, ransacked and now dilapidated manufacturing unit. Insufficiently clothed and fed, George and daughter Gertrude had been amongst those that sneaked meals to them, conserving them alive. Additionally they managed to get recent shirts and socks to them, previous to the prisoners being taken away from Roubaix within the autumn of 1918 by their retreating German captors.

When George as soon as once more entered his half-dismantled Roubaix mill in October 1918, he discovered it in a dilapidated state, with home windows shattered, ironwork rusted and yards filled with refuse left by the retreating Germans. Because the conflict drew to a detailed in 1918, and German defeat was inevitable, that they had eliminated over £250,000 price of equipment from the mill, stripped copper from the boilers, eliminated dynamos from machines they didn’t take, even eliminated items of leather-based from the wire rods within the weaving rooms. They then smashed what remained. Round 150 packing instances of kit prepared for delivery to Germany lay deserted, together with spinning frames and bins of paper tubes, able to pulp. However as soon as once more George was in a position to place a tiny home-made Union Jack over the doorway of his mill, and one other over the door of his residence. The household spent all evening making Union Jacks with which to welcome the British troops.

As quickly because the Germans went, Gertrude wrote to her grandmother in Staincliffe:

We will hardly consider it’s true that the Germans have left. It’s so pretty to see the British Tommies strolling by the streets. We’re all nonetheless too excited to offer you additional particulars. We anticipate to come back to Yorkshire for Christmas.23

Gertrude was a conflict heroine in her personal proper. Lengthy earlier than the outbreak of hostilities, she joined the Roubaix Pink Cross enterprise charity work with them, and promising to serve with them within the occasion of conflict. On its declaration she was ordered to remain in Roubaix to deal with the wounded on No 1 Ward within the St Louis Hospital.24 She was caring for the French and British wounded after the primary Battle of Ypres in 1914, when the Germans entered the city in mid-October 1914. She continued nursing on the hospital while it was underneath German authority. Till mid-1915 this included tending to Allied prisoners interred within the Roubaix space. After this date, these Allied captives had been both despatched to Germany to be held as prisoners, or despatched residence in prisoner exchanges. Gertrude then nursed the native inhabitants, while enterprise extra harmful work, resembling passing on intelligence to the Allies, together with that gathered by her father – a job described as being of immense army worth. And later within the conflict, time and time once more, she secretly and fearlessly carried meals and clothes to British prisoners who had been as soon as extra again in Roubaix, together with to these lodged in her father’s fabric mill. Simply earlier than the Armistice, with the Germans gone from Roubaix, she was requested to be an interpreter-nurse for the British Military, which she did for 5 months.

She, her father, and one other conflict heroine, (Marie) Léonie Vanhoutte, had been invited to England as company of honour of the United Associations of Nice Britain and France in November 1927. Born in Roubaix, Marie Léonie Vanhoutte, additionally identified by the pseudonym Charlotte Lameron, initially skilled as a Pink Cross nurse, however then – when she couldn’t countenance treating German occupiers – she turned a French Resistance fighter and undercover agent working on the French/Belgium border. She was at one level in jail with the later-executed nurse Edith Cavell. Léonie, too, was sentenced to loss of life by the Germans, however this was commuted to fifteen years imprisonment. Gertrude and Léonie turned often known as “the Heroines of Roubaix.” On the go to to England, Gertrude positioned a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier at Westminster Abbey, while Mlle. Vanhoutte laid a wreath on the foot of Nurse Cavell’s monument.

Charles the Pigeon and a Batley Spy Get hold of US Obtain US
Gertrude Richardson (left), Léonie Vanhoutte and George Richardson in England in 1927

To commemorate the exploits of Charles, George was offered with a pair of alabaster pigeons on the dinner which fashioned a key a part of the go to. This occasion was hosted by Lord Derby on the Rembrandt Resort in London.

The checklist of honours and decorations bestowed on George by the French and Belgian governments present the excessive regard through which he was held. In accordance with the Batley Information, these included Knight of the Order of Legion of Honour; Knight of the Order of Leopold; Knight of the Crown of Belgium; Knight of the Order of Nassau, with Army Cross Grand Duchy of Luxembourg; Officer of the French Academy; Officer of the Order of Nicham Iftikar of Tunis; Order of the Nationwide Advantage with Army Medal. He was additionally a member of the Northern France Delegate for the British Chamber of Commerce; Textile Skilled for Legislation Courts; and Textile Skilled for the Ministry of Commerce.25

Charles the pigeon died in March 1928. It was mentioned after her loss of life she was to be stuffed and preserved within the Struggle Museum, Paris.

In his later years, George lived simply outdoors Roubaix, within the city of Croix. That is the place his spouse, Rebecca, died within the early hours of 16 March 1922, at their 22, Rue de Roubaix residence. George attributed his spouse’s loss of life to the conflict. Simply over seven years later, at 8 o’clock within the morning of 18 March 1929, George died in the identical home.


I uncovered the story of George William Richardson while enterprise analysis for a shopper into the broader Richardson household. I’m sharing this analysis with their permission, supplemented by some follow-up work I’ve since undertaken.

If you want me to analysis your loved ones historical past, check out my analysis companies and costs right here. And notice, as a particular supply till 31 January solely my hourly price is diminished, as outlined right here.


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Footnotes:
1. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 2 August 1879.
2. Batley Information, 23 February 1906.
3. Leeds Mercury, 27 March 1928.
4. Batley Information, 23 February 1906.
5. Spellings as per the France, Nord, Recensement, 1906.
6. Most experiences mentioned over 500 fingers, however the Batley Information of 16 February 1906 mentioned over 600.
7. Batley Information, 16 February 1906.
8. Leeds Mercury, 25 November 1927.
9. Leeds Mercury, 27 March 1928
10. Batley Information, 3 December 1927.
11. Batley Information, 26 October 1918.
12. Leeds Mercury, 27 March 1928.
13. Leeds Mercury, 26 November 1927.

14. Observer (Adelaide, S.A.), 14 January 1928.
15. Batley Information, 26 November 1927.

16. Observer (Adelaide, S.A.), 14 January 1928.
17. Leeds Mercury, 26 November 1927.
18. Sheffield Unbiased, 26 November 1927.
19. There are some contradictions across the buy of Charles, with some experiences saying M. Vanoutryve purchased him from Sir Frank Warner for £100. The model I’ve used is the one from The London Each day Chronicle of 21 February 1927, as recounted by her breeders Bracey and Cooke.
20. London Each day Chronicle, 17 February 1927.
21. Ibid.
22. London Each day Chronicle, 17 February 1927.
23. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 25 October 1918.
24. Batley Information, 26 November 1927.
25.. Batley Information, 23 March 1929.


Different Sources:

  • Structure et monuments, Usine G. W. Richardson et Cie,
  • Archives départementales du Nord, registres d’état civil du Nord, Croix/D 1921 – 1924 and Croix/D 1929 – 1932.
  • Censuses, England and Wales, varied.
  • GRO Start, Marriage and Loss of life Indexes.
  • GRO Overseas Registers and Returns.
  • Le Monde Illustré, 5 March 1923.
  • L’usine Richardson,
  • Newspapers – together with Batley Information, 18 Might 1912, 19 January 1918, 26 October 1918, 30 October 1926; Batley Reporter and Guardian, 13 July 1878, 31 August 1878; Coventry Night Telegraph, 8 March 1928; Dewsbury Reporter, 24 August 1878; Halifax Courier, 2 November 1927; Jedburgh Gazette, 29 November 1912; Leeds Mercury – 25 March 1929; London Each day Chronicle, 21 February 1926; North Mail and Newcastle Chronicle, 26 November 1927; The Sphere, London, 10 December 1927; Yorkshire Night Submit, 25 November 1927, 8 March 1928; Yorkshire Submit, 28 November 1927, 22 March 1929. This isn’t an exhaustive checklist.
  • Parish Registers, England – varied.

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