The pigeon has landed

I have written before about the widespread fear of German paratroops in Britain in May and June 1940. Here's a sterling example from somewhere in London, as described in the Ministry of Information's Home Intelligence report for 7 June 1940:

A false alarm on a housing estate of parachutists occasioned by a flock of pigeons resulted in about half the tenants rushing to the roof and the rest rushing to the shelters in the basement. In the melee several women fainted. These people are normally calm and collected. They seem to need more advice as to what to do and how to do it on such occasions.1

It's hard to imagine how an ordinary flock of pigeons could be mistaken for descending parachutists. But if there's one thing I've been hammering over and over on this blog, it's this: fear can make people see danger in the innocuous, whether it's footpaths, meteors, motor cars, Venus, Venus, weather balloons, or even nothing at all. Having said that, there's less evidence of widespread misperception of this sort (as opposed to rumours, of which there are many, though with frustratingly few details) in the MOI reports than I might have expected.

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  1. Paul Addison and Jeremy A. Crang, eds., Listening to Britain: Home Intelligence Reports on Britain's Finest Hour, May to September 1940 (London: The Bodley Head, 2010), 91. []

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