The Cattrijsse brothers give their opinion
“First of all we judge a pigeon for the long distance races by its endurance. A pigeon that returns home very tired after every race does not seem to have enough strength. Of course this is not a problem if it happens just once; even a strong pigeon can run into difficulties during a race.”
A pigeon that is resistant will be fairly fit when it arrives home. This gives us a good indication of the endurance of a pigeon. I would like to refer to the previous paragraph: “this is not a problem if it happens just once.” This is a very interesting theory, because it reminds us of a few memorable examples of exhaustion and recovery. Have you heard of the famous 1462 of Fernand Schul from Roosendaal? She is a small blue coloured hen that was made of steel. She was unbeatable at the long distance (especially the overnight races) and she won no less than three first prizes, one of which was won with a lead of no less than three hours in the national races (even though there were not that many pigeons in the race). Well, this well known long distance pigeon arrived home from Limoges completely tired out, hardly able to stand on its feet. This happened several times.
It might sound a bit implausible but Jantje Verswijveren told us this story many times. It arrived in the loft seriously weakened. Strangely enough she seemed fairly fit again after only a few hours. This shows us that these birds have a very strong character and an indomitable will to recover. These pigeons are very often great champions.
Rik van Steenbergen, the world champion in cycling in 1949 was not very motivated in 1950 but he demonstrated his talent in the followings season. The result was that he finished completely exhausted after two races early in the season: The Tour of Flanders (where he finished sixth) and Paris-Roubaix (a third place). In Paris-Roubaix he was so exhausted that he could not even win the final sprint against the French rider Lousion Bobet, which was usually not a difficult task for him.
Oscar (left) and Gerard Cattrysse
How about the Cattrijsse pigeons?
You would probably not expect stories like that in the loft of the Catrrijsse brothers. I’m afraid you are mistaken. It appears that it happens fairly often that some very strong pigeons run into troubles during a competition. The brothers have a few pigeons with a very strong character and they would fly until they are completely exhausted. We discussed this with Karel Van Gampelaere from Koekelare (2 km away from Moere), who managed to win two first national prizes with a loft of only 24 pigeons, only seven of which could be raced in 1950. He won these first prizes with hens (Vanderespt-Cattrijsse-Devriendt) from Cahors (2,058 p.) and Argenton (753 p.), against the best widowers in Belgium.
Karel Van Gampelaere said that, "a pigeon with a strong character is like a thoroughbred horse: it gives everything it has.” He believes that Blauw Bordeauxtje is the very best pigeon of the two brothers, and he knows what he is talking about. He won for instance a 12th provincial from Bordeaux, a 3rd national St. Vincent (989 p.), a 9th national Bergerac (1,715 p.), an 18th national St. Vincent (1,460 p.), a 15th national Cahors (2,058 p.) and a first national Carcassonne (1,003 p.).
Karel continues: “Well, I have clocked that pigeon myself when it arrived home in Roeselare from Orleans. It was completely exhausted and it nearly fell over in front of the water bowl. It had its wings stretched out. By the evening it was flying around again and it stayed in the air for quite some time that evening.”
The Cattrijsse brothers share the opinion that their results prove that they have at least a dozen birds of similar quality: the 45, Angoulemke, Blok, Bulte, the 38, Aster, the 15, Oudepenne, Kleine, Bleke, Tsjallie, Limoges, Monty and many more. Would there be another loft with so many pigeons with such a strong character? I very much doubt it.
We should not forget that the long distance races in Belgium are a lot more demanding nowadays and there are lot more competitors compared to the races from before the war. I do not expect everyone to agree with me but I think it would do no harm to give my opinion: I think the superiority of the Belgian long distance competition over The Netherlands and Germany is obvious. Some insiders say that Belgians are in a different league and that is not surprising considering what happened in the war.
In 1951 the Belgian pigeon fanciers’ union organised an official championship, in which quite a lot of money could be won. This competition was very hard and for the fanciers from The Netherlands it was all but impossible to win a top prize. This is why: the ranking for this first edition of this championship was based on no less than twelve grand distance races, namely:
Five races in the Entente Belge: Tulle, Libourne, Brive, Angouleme and Pau.
Three races for Cureghem-Centre: Montauban, Barcelona and Carcassonne.
Two races for the Walloon organisation “Avenir de Fleurus": Dax and St. Vincent.
One race for the Entente Brussels: Bilbao.
One of the two races from St. Vincent in Liège.
What do you think? Would the fanciers in Belgium, the country of Quievrain specialists, prace the long distance? I expected the winner of this championship to be a fancier with a big team, someone with at least twenty experienced widowhood cocks. The fact that only the first nominated pigeon counted for the classification confirmed my belief.
My personal favourites were the Cattrijsse brothers and Devriendt. They lived only 100 meters apart, in a town of 1,200 inhabitants, surrounded by farmlands. The championship ended undecided: André Vanbruaene from Lauwe, Julien Mathijs from Vichte and Oscar Devriendt from Moere had an equal amount of championship points, but more about that later.
In the winter of 1950-1951 I checked how many new top prizes the two brothers had added to their list of achievements. Here is an overview: in the race from Angouleme the feared blue coloured white-eye pigeon of Cyriel Derynck finished ten minutes earlier than the pigeon of Cattrijsse that would eventually win the first national prize. Cyriel was never in a hurry: he took his bicycle and he drove to the town, with the key of his loft in his pocket. He lived near the railway station, where an old train would pass no more than four times a day. People used to make fun of the noise the train made when it passed the station. Cyriel took a stroll and he paid the Cattrijsse brothers a visit. He asked them what they expected: “When do you expect them to arrive?”, he asked. “In about an hour or so”, said Oscar. Not more than ten minutes later their 38 arrived home.
Cyriel went to the smith and he had no idea that the 38 had landed; the Cattrijsse brothers never made a fuss of it. Fortunately enough he went home shortly after, otherwise his Gebroken Poot (a wonderful blue coloured Vandevelde from Charles Vanderespt in Ostend) would not have won a 9th national. There were 3,800 pigeons in the race. “You are a fool!”, Karel van Gampelaere shouted. “Well, if you say so”, said Cyriel.
The first national and international prize from Libourne was also won by the two brothers, as well as the first national from Carcassonne. This is a city in the far south of France, close to Perpignan and Narbonne near the Mediterranean Sea. Temperatures are sometimes very high there. When the pigeons are released from Barcelona they fly along the blue waters of the Mediterranean and they pass this region as well.
Oscar Devriendt missed the first prize from Libourne by 30 seconds... “It’s not much”, said Gerard. “My time will come”, said Devriendt. They kept on challenging each other. Devriendt made a great comeback in 1949: he won two first national prizes, as well as a third and a fourth. 1950 was equally successful: he began the season with a first Chateauroux (Interprovincial West and East Flanders and Hainaut). He also won a first national from Limoges and another first national from Limoges, the yearlings derby. The winning yearling was clocked at 3 o’clock, on the same afternoon when the first prize from Limoges was won by Bram Van Gijs from Groede in the South Holland Union (at 14h30). Ko Nipius from Middelharnis clocked his first pigeon one hour after Gijs. Thanks to his favourable location and the southeast wind his pigeon was clocked first in his union. If Devriendt could have raced in The Netherlands that day I think he would have won the first prize with a comfortable lead in both unions. The weather conditions were in favour of fast pigeons. The fantail pigeons had an advantage as well, especially with the strong tailwind. When there is a southeast wind the fanciers from West Flanders are simply unbeatable. They take every prize; there is nothing you can do about it. In the national competition in Belgium there were only three fanciers from East Flanders in the first 50. How about Antwerp? Huyskens-Van Riel dominated the field at provincial level but the Antwerp fanciers did not do well at national level.
Oscar Devriendt has always been a strong opponent for the Cattrijsse brothers. Their battle in the Belgian Championship of 1949 was tough and very exciting. It was a neck and neck race until the final day of the competition.
These are the results as calculated by Cureghem-Centre:
Oscar Devriendt Bergerac 1,715 pigeons, 2nd prize = 823,273 points / 4th prize = 798,165 points / 26th prize = 706,687 points. Cahors 1,314 pigeons, 1st prize = 990,983 points / 73rd prize = 809,844 points / 74th prize = 808,501 points. Montauban 1,108 pigeons, 22nd prize = 844,196 points / 44th prize = 760,380 points / 199th prize = 622,408 points. Limoges 913 pigeons, 53rd prize = 765,339 points / Limoges 731 (young) birds) 114th prize = 310,998 points. A total of 8,280,184 points. The Cattrijsse brothers Bergerac 1,715 pigeons, 9th prize = 770,489 points Cahors 1,314 pigeons, 2nd prize = 971,734 points / 15th prize = 900,964 points / 37th prize = 869,981 points. Montauban 1,108 pigeons, 4th prize = 957,176 points / 10th prize = 929,524 points / 39th prize = 780,400 points. Limoges 913 pigeons, 18th prize = 833,972 points / 110th prize = 603,753 points. Limoges 731 (young) birds, 92nd prize = 399,016 points / 117th prize = 293.780 points A total of 8,311,189 points.
The number of points equals the number of metres per minute. It cannot be easier. According to the rulebook the two champions were allowed to basket three pigeons for each of the races. So this is definitely a competition with nominated birds. The Cattrijsse brothers won the official Belgian Championship and 25,000 Belgian Francs with a lead of 31 meters over 11 prizes. This means they had a lead of no more than three meters per minute per prize won (31/11). The decisive race was that of Limoges young birds: the 117th prize of one of the birds of Cattrijsse proved to be the decisive result in this championship. Keep in mind that the two fanciers basketed pigeons for Cureghem-Centre and some other organisations as well; sometimes they took part in three different competitions in a single weekend.
One of the other opponents of the two brothers was Henri Casteleyn from Moere (lives in Ostend), not to be confused with Ernest, a fancier from Gistel who provided Boels (the mayor of Stene) with good blue coloured Vandevelde pigeons.
In ’49 Henri made a flying start with the three first prizes in an important regional competition against over 1,000 pigeons. His best pigeon was Bulte, a blue Vandevelde that came directly from the loft of Devriendt. He was the best pigeon in the region for two years. In 1950 he had to be satisfied with a first and second provincial from Angouleme. Still he won top ten prizes regularly. In 1952 he moved to Ostend, where he worked as a teacher in the Nijverheidschool. He decided to auction all of his old birds in ‘t Cocqske in Brussels.
Another important name back then was Karel Van Gampelaere: he won a first national from Cahors (2,058 pigeons) and a first national from Argenton, both won in Cureghem Centre. He won a long series of other top prizes as well. In 1950 he settled for sixth in the Championship of Belgium, which means he did better than such champions as René Genette from Jambes and the best fanciers from Liège. He won a third prize in the long distance with a loft of a mere 24 pigeons.
On 4 July 1950 there was a fair in Moere and it was a great day for the Belgian fanciers as well. No less than seven first prizes were won that day:
Karel Van Gampelaere first national Cahors; Oscar Devriendt first interprov. Chateauroux; Cyriel Derynck first Chartres in Eernegem; Serafien Janssens first Chartres in Handzame; Gaspard Hendrickx first Beauvais in Eernegem; Jeroen Staelens (70 years old) first Chartres in Gistel; Roger Devriendt first Arras in Eernegem...
These seven first prizes were not won at home but in other clubs.
Observing the way in which the pigeons arrive from a race is of course not the only way to judge the quality of your pigeons. The Cattrijsse brothers and most other fanciers from the region try to improve as many aspects of their breed as possible but they are not trained for exhibitions. There is quite a difference between their racing pigeons and the pigeons you get to see in pigeon exhitibions.
The wing theory and other theories are out of fashion
The only thing that remains is the bird’s character, its vitality, the muscles, limberness and endurance. Most fanciers have made a shift from the model and shape of the bird to biology. The advocates of the wing theory are still trying to prove their point by saying that flying is a matter of limberness and not of strength. They say that there are only two possible theories: their theory (limberness) and the theory of all other fanciers in Belgium (strength) but no one really agrees with them. Their theory is all too easy.
Wouldn’t you agree that Gaston Reiff is an agile and flexible runner? And yet he was beaten by the Czech Emil Zatopek, who does not have a great running style but who is very powerful and has a lot of endurance.
In fact power and flexibility are two equally important qualities. They do not exclude each other but they complement each other. These two features are the most important qualities of the strong breed of the Cattrijsse brothers from Moere. It has often been claimed that the Cattrijsse pigeons have the appearance of very average and ordinary pigeons and people do not understand why they can fly so fast. It is also said that they do not have fine feathers and that their eye contains relatively much yellow and little gold or chestnut, which is what the eye of an intelligent and noble pigeon should normally look like. In addition a lot of fanciers say that their location is an important factor for success: the coastal region from Veurne to Knokke is the promised land for long distance fanciers who want to make a lot of money. The same has been said about fanciers in Zeelandic Flanders in The Netherlands. There is some truth in these arguments: the pigeons of Cattrijsse are very averagely looking indeed; in fact Oscar used to say this about his own pigeons.
What exactly is the difference between an average and ordinary looking pigeon and a true first class pigeon, which has some of the finest origins?
Well, there really isn’t one. The so called average looking pigeons of the Cattrijsse breed are actually great pigeons as well; it is not true that their pigeons look crooked and they are a lot more intelligent than some might think.
Delbar Maurice, Ronse
You do get the impression that the Cattrijsse pigeons are simple workhorses that lack fine qualities and they do not have different colours in the iris or fine feathers etc. The incidents that happened during the Second World War illustrate his. On 17 May 1940 the Cattrijsse loft was occupied by the Germans, as well as the lofts of Corneel Horemans (Schoten), Georges Goossens (Evere), Maurice Delbar (Ronsse) and others. They stayed there until September of 1942. After that they simply left, said Gerard Cattrijsse. Two years later the tide had turned and the invasion of Western Europe was about to begin. In February 1944 the Germans ordered the evacuation of all pigeons in the coastal region and the province Antwerp to Brussels. The Cattrijsse brothers had to send 69 pigeons to Brussels but they managed to hide eight pigeons in the house of Ghesquiere from Beveren-Roeselare (behind the demarcation line), the brother in law of Oscar.
Georges Goossens (Evere) with Mr. Van Malder, his son in law
The amazing lofts of Georges Goossens
In September 1944, 40 pigeons returned from Brussels. The other 29 were lost. Added to the four breeding pairs that were hid in Beveren they had 48 pigeons of the old breed to make a fresh start. Among the forty pigeons that returned from Brussels there were four grandsons of the old Louis, all bred from Lange. We were in the loft and I was taking notes. Oscar Cattrijsse was holding a pigeon, which he placed in the breeding box. I am only involved in the pigeons themselves; I have nothing to do with the other organisational aspects of this loft. So I know nothing about that. I can only say that I am very grateful to the person who made sure that I got these four grandsons back in our loft (he is talking about Mr. Wilfried Staes in Izegem, president of the B.D.B and president of the Fédération Colombophile Internationale). It was thanks to these four pigeons that we could compose a new breed that could bear a resemblance to our breed from before the war. In the harsh winter of 1944 we could not keep our entire group of fifty pigeons so we decided to sell a few birds. Some fanciers would pay a lot if they could pick a few of their best birds. They were willing to spend up to 20,000 Belgian Francs (500 Euros) but the two brothers did not need the money and they did not make the same mistake as some other champions. Some champions sold their best pigeons, as a result of which they were not likely to return to the top. Instead, the Cattrijsse brothers decided to keep their best birds.
They eventually decided to sell five cocks born in ’43 and the visitors bought three of them for 5,000 Francs each. It was a good deal for the brothers, keeping in mind that they wanted to get rid of these pigeons. 5,000 Francs was a decent amount of money in those days. Everybody agreed that these three cocks were the best of the five pigeons on offer; the Cattrijsse brothers agreed. Two pigeons stayed in the loft, one of which got caught in a telephone wire. The other was not a pretty pigeon: very slim with long legs, like a heron. Then again, it was a blue Vandevelde, bred from a daughter of Louis x the half brother of the renowned stock father. The pigeon was later called Pette and it spent several years in the aviary with his hen Mette (which was found dead in early 1949). In four years this pair bred some top prize winners, of which the 45 was the most successful.
The Mette hen was one of the last daughters of Bolleken, a pigeon of the glorious breed from before the war (Vandevelde-Lamote line). Pette, the sire of 45, was one of the so called average looking pigeons. He was heavily muscled. Together with Charles Vanderespt from Ostend I have been trying to recollect what other breeding pairs have added to the success of the Cattrijsse breed after the war. We noticed the letters G and V repeatedly in their list of stock pigeons.
Letter G stands for Schone Blauwe from 1939 that originates from the 13 year old sire Grote Blauwe from 1926, paired with a hen from Albert Degandt from Dottignies. V is Bourinneke from 1940; a full sister of Kleinkopje (one of the grandsons of Louis, bred from Lange). At that time Lange was paired with a sister of Goei Bolleken. Every pigeon that was bred from Grote Blauwe, Louis, Lange and Bolleken was a success! The letter G had a brother H, which was a very good pigeon as well. The L, which was Bolleke, bred for instance Klein-kopje, which was possibly the best breeder of all. Klein-kopje has bred Blok, Grote Blauwe, Koo, the 38, the Lange, the 15, the Slechte Penne and so on. These were outstanding long distance pigeons: some of them won a top five or top twenty ranking in nearly every race. The G pigeon (Schone Blauwe from 1939) has bred Oudepenne, Kleine, Vuile, Bleke, Bordeauxtje, Witteborst and many others. Another pair worth mentioning is 36: the cock of this couple was a full brother of the letter L, which was Bolleke. The hen was a full sister of letter G Schone Blauwe. This couple bred three amazing cocks: Aster, Angoulemke and Tsjallie. They were three great national champions.
When I made a report about the auction of their first round of youngsters in Brussels in 1948 I also wrote something about Tsjallie: he won an 18th Orleans in Roeselare with the yearlings and a 49th Orleans in Deinze (413 pigeons). Tsjallie was being spared because he was a promising bird for the future. Already in 1950 you could see that he would become very successful. One year later he took the first national prize from Cahors, which was the first race in a memorable season, when the long distance fanciers from West Flanders outclassed the rest of the country!
The 45 is a strong and powerful cock. Bordeauxtje is smaller and feels a bit less strong but his muscles are more supple and he has more endurance for the long distance (3rd national St. Vincent, 1st national Montauban etc.). I think Akster is not as strong. He has had some great results but that was mostly in races with a lot of tailwind. This pigeon has quite a big tail. The Cattrijsse pigeons do not have a fine plume. Even though their plumage appears to be fairly simple these pigeons are in fact indestructible and they are of great quality.
We will not be talking about the favourable position of the coastal region compared to Antwerp, the Campine region and the region around Liège and Verviers in this article. We agree that Moere is a great location for pigeon fancying but the same applies to Diksmuide, Poperinge etc. Yet the fanciers from Moere dominated the field in some seasons, mostly thanks to the outstanding quality of the blue coloured Vandevelde pigeons. The quality of the pigeon is still the decisive factor.
When Franz Hentges from Luxemburg had a few good pigeons he managed to become champion in the Entente Belge. I would like to conclude this series with some figures. In 1947 the amazing pigeons of the Cattrijsse brothers won a total of 435,000 Belgian Francs (10,875 Euros). Two years later they won 627,000 Francs (15,675 Euros) plus 25,000 Francs for winning the Belgian Championship. In 1950, their most successful year, they yielded even more. Still, the two brothers are not gamblers. “But what would you do when you are basketing your pigeons and one of your stars tries to make clear that you should really bet on him?”
Oscar is an enjoyable person but he is also an intelligent and broad minded businessman. He is sometimes self critical as well and I would like to tell you a story about him that perfectly illustrates his character. In the pigeon club De Zon in Ieper some of the big names in pigeon racing were sitting together: Oscar Cattrijsse, Oscar Devriendt, Leopold Bostijn, Jules Matton, Emiel Denijs etc. Oscar was talking: “In the race from Dourdan in Bruges I made an 18,000 Belgian Francs bet. When the race was over all participants complained that 10% of the prize money was deducted per prize. I didn’t mind. I went home and I never talked about it again.”
The friends at the table burst into laughter. “That’s a good one. That’s because you did not win a single prize there.” Oscar had to laugh as well and he bought everyone a drink.
The successor of the Cattrysse brothers: Maurice Beuselinck, Moere
Oscar and Gerard Cattrysse are no longer there. Maurice Beuselinck is
a worthy successor to the greatest champions of all time.
The Cattrijsse pigeons turned Belgium into possibly the most successful pigeon racing country.