ON Page 3 of The Northern Echo of June 7, 1944, it was reported how the very first word of the invasion had reached the media - by carrier pigeon.

Amid radio silence, hundreds of warbirds dodged gunfire and specially-trained Nazi hawks to bring back news.

The first report of D-Day, as the Echo acknowledged, came from a grizzled cock pigeon called Gustav, who was one of six carrier pigeons issued by the RAF to Reuters war correspondent Montague Taylor.

After being released by Taylor from an Allied warship off the Normandy coast, Gustav faced a headwind of up to 30mph. The sun, which he used to navigate, was hidden behind dense cloud.

But he still managed the 150-mile trip and arrived back at a pigeon loft in Thorney Island, near Portsmouth, after a harrowing flight lasting five hours and 16 minutes.

His handler, Sergeant Harry Halsey, took the message strapped to Gustav's leg and passed it on immediately to headquarters.

The message read: "We are just 20 miles or so off the beaches. First assault troops landed 0750. Signal says no interference from enemy gunfire on beach... Steaming steadily in formation. Lightnings, Typhoons, Fortresses crossing since 0545. No enemy aircraft seen."

Despite his foreign-sounding name, Gustav was very much an English pigeon and his efforts won him the Dickin Medal for Gallantry - the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

The citation read: "For delivering the first message from the Normandy beaches from a ship off the beachhead while serving with the RAF on June 6 1944."

But war hero status did not guarantee Gustav a rosy retirement and he was later to meet a sorry end when someone mucking out his loft stepped on him by mistake.

Another heroic pigeon called Paddy, a Dark Chequer Gay Pied Cock, also won the Dickin Medal for making the fastest journey back from Normandy.

His citation read: "Of the several hundreds of pigeons - both service and civilian - used in the Normandy invasion operations, Paddy accomplished the fastest recorded time with a message in four hours and 50 minutes. An exceptionally intelligent pigeon."

In 1999, plucky Paddy's medal was auctioned for £6,900.

He was bred in Ireland - at Carnlough, Co Antrim - but his ultimate fate is unknown. However, there has been speculation that he was stuffed.