Family memories with Fay Hampson...

My grandfather loved fishing, but I never had him down as a hunting or shooting man. Imagine my surprise when, a few months ago, my brother told me that grandad had told him he'd had a gun to "shoot the 'awks".

Now my grandfather's name was Herbert Hampson, but as a true son of Denbighshire and the Shropshire borders, he took little notice of the initial "aitch" and often made me laugh by telling me he signed his name "Apostrophe dot Apostrophe ampson!" The penny dropped! But what hawks did he shoot and why?

My brother and I were looking at the photograph shown here, taken in 1910 when grandad was 25, of him and his friends outside their pigeon loft.

Grandad kept homing pigeons well into his 70s and I loved going into his loft to check on the birds, fascinated by the clay cups in which they laid their eggs, delighted by their gentle cooing and exhilarated by their fly-pasts at such tremendous speeds.

He loved his pigeons and his flock of hens. Shooting any bird seemed out of character.

My brother explained. But before I add my little bit, I urge you to look up Pigeons at War - the RAF and the National Pigeon Service and The Secret Pigeon Service by Gordon Corera.

Grandad never talked about the war, the family, like so many others, had suffered dreadful loss and heartache during both world wars, I imagine he did not want to relive those dark times.

Was he also sworn to secrecy for his part in the National Pigeon Service (NPS)? We will never know.

What he did tell my brother was that during the Second World War he was approached by the powers that be and asked to supervise the part of the NPS for North Wales that supplied homing pigeons to the RAF.

German U-boats were wreaking havoc in the North Atlantic. Once a plane was downed the only way to summon help was by a different sort of wing power.

Each plane had proven homing pigeons who played a vital role in the rescue of allied aircraft. A message stating position and other relevant information was put into a cannister which was individual to each plane, attached to the bird's leg and it was sent on its way back to its loft.

For each service flight the pigeon's owner was paid 4d.

Alas, the birds were liable to predation by hawks, and that is why pigeon fanciers were recruited not only to supply pigeons but also to "shoot the 'awks!"

Some 200,000 pigeons served in the NPS. Their speeds of up to 50mph and range of 300 miles led to an impressive success rate.

Thirty-two pigeons were awarded the Dickin Medal - the animal Victoria Cross - named after Marie Dickin who had founded the PDSA. Royal Blue, Winkie, White Vision and Gustav were among the recipients.

The little I can find out about RAF Coastal Command in Wales during Second World War is as follows: The main base was at Pembroke Dock, flying long range Sunderland flying boats. There was also a base at Llandadyr, Shell Island near Harlech.

The Leader: Herbert Hampson tending his tomatoes (left) and grape vines (right). Photos courtesy of Fay HampsonHerbert Hampson tending his tomatoes (left) and grape vines (right). Photos courtesy of Fay Hampson

In 1938, before his brave pigeons were recruited, here is grandad tending his tomatoes in the greenhouse at Gatefield, and in 1964, aged 79, here he is admiring his magnificent grape vine in Park Avenue.

He was ever the gardener.