Birds and Battle

I’m sitting in my living room typing this post from my phone and trying to cope with this movie I just finished watching.

For my film review (don’t worry this isn’t it) I watched the film Beneath Hill 60 (so so good. Do yourselves a favor and watch it. Side note: it’s free on YouTube but you didn’t hear that from me) which is about an Australian group of miners during the war. In some of the very beginning scenes, I was puzzled hence this post.

Several of the mining tunnels they had constructed had small cages hanging on the walls with pigeons and canaries or “budgies” in them. I asked my family of movie buffs and history freaks why this was and the answer, though seemingly simple, shocked me.

Today we have machines that detect gases that shouldn’t be in our homes. There are carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors and probably dozens more for dozens other reasons, but during WW1, these machines didn’t exist. Underground, the likelihood of pockets of these gases was extremely great. Miners could be digging tunnels and mine into one or (as we discussed before) mine into pockets of gas that had seeped into the ground after being used. Because a small bird’s body is more delicate than a humans, the miners used these birds to detect if they were nearing pockets of gas. If the bird got sick or died, the miners knew they were in danger.

Similarly, running out of oxygen in the tunnels was a great possibility so often times the miners would light candles to test how much oxygen was in the tunnel. Tall flames meant lots of oxygen and dim lights meant alarmingly small amount.

I haven’t had any chance to look up any further information online since, as I said before, still trying to come to terms with the end of what I just witnessed, but I thought the resourcefulness of these people was incredible and mandated a share.