Made in Dundee

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    29 Nov 2018
    Clock 70min      Length2mi
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    McManus Museum & Art Gallery

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    Stop outside the museum while I tell you my tale. If it is a cold day you can go inside the museum to stay warm.

    In 1942 a British bomber plane was returning one night from an expedition across the North Sea. It was badly damaged by enemy fire and crashed into the Sea. Although they had been able to let those back at base know that they were going to crash, they had been unable to radio their location. The 4 men bailed out into their dinghy. Their only hope now was a pigeon. At that time all RAF planes had carrier pigeons, to be used as a last resort. They released the bird and she flew the 120 miles to Scotland. She eventually arrived back in Broughty Ferry where her owner George Ross discovered her. He immediately alerted the RAF.

    But they had a problem – although they knew which plane she had come from, there was no message attached to the bird. Either the crew had forgotten to attach one or the bird had gotten loose before they had the chance. But, they were able to work out where the crew was, based on how long it had been since the plane went down, the wind direction and the inhibition to the bird's flight speed caused by oil from the crashed plane.

    Within 15 minutes they were able to work out the location of the crew and dispatched a rescue team. To honour the bird and her phenomenal feat of flying, she was awarded a Dickin medal. These medals are often known as 'the animal's Victoria Cross'. The medal was presented at a dinner held in honour of her and her trainer by the rescued crew. Throughout the meal she appeared to be winking, probably as a result of the exhaustion and strain that she had undergone, and it was for this reason she was given the name Winkie. After her death she was stuffed and donated to the McManus Museum. You can still see her on display to this day.

    The McManus Museum is home to some other extraordinary birds - the only known surviving specimens from the Endurance Expedition. This is because the specimens were sent to James Caird, a Dundonian manufacturer and the expedition's main sponsor.

    I will talk more about Dundee's part in polar exploration and specifically the Endurance Expedition later. But for now I want to give you a sense of the man behind the money - James Caird himself.

    If you want to visit the museum, this is your chance. If you want to come back another time, we will continue with the tour.

    Stand with your back to the museum's entrance. Turn to your right and walk until another road joins it from the left. Go down this road.