Tuesday, 16 November 2010


On 23rd February 1918 the ever investigative Exmouth Journal sent its 'representive' to the Imperial Hotel to interview the wealthy and somewhat eccentric Australian inventor, Thomas Mills, then resident in Exmouth. He spoke about his plans to 'train' seagulls to detect submarines. "I have been at work," said Mr Mills, "for the last few months, with my invention at Exmouth."

What Mr Mills was doing was trailing a 'dummy' submarine behind his own boat all around Exmouth Bay. His cunning apparatus was so devised that it rose from the depths and showed its dummy periscope to the seagulls while at the same time distributing food to them.

In time, it was Mr Mill's belief, the birds would associate periscopes with free and easy food and any German submarine breaking the surface would be immediately identified by the flock of gulls that would descend on it.

All that was necessary to beat the submarine threat was to have a thousand or so of these dummies being towed around the coasts of Britain and very soon the seagulls would be doing their bit in the Great War for Civilization.

Mr Mills spent some time observing the coming and going of ships in the Docks here. From his observations he concluded: "... seagulls can be trained in the same way as a sportsman would train a dog or any other animal or in the same way that a St Bernard might be trained to find people lost in the snow."

Somehow the BBC recently made Mr Mill's acquaintance and somebody called Neil Oliver who is famous, spent a few licence fees replicating the experiment in Scotland. I don't know if the Exe got a mention on TV but here is where it all happened first. (or maybe second. See Comment below!)