The history of pigeon racing in Belgium -Vandevelde Theo (Leffinge, BE) & Vanderespt Charles (Oudenburg, BE) - part I

16 December 1951. The club of Corbisier at the Place Fontainas in “A la Cour de Bruxelles” is packed with people. This is the same club where pigeons of Karel Wegge were sold 53 years ago.

Gust Ducheyne from Deurne, who is planning to move to Schoten, organises a public auction for all his pigeons. Leaving aside Genette, the true master of pigeon racing, Gust broke all records with his auction. ‘Kleine Geschelpte’ and Sture were sold for 14,000 Belgian Franc (350 eur) and 16,000 BEF (400 eur) respectively; ‘Vendomeduivin’ was sold for 19,000 BEF (470 eur). We were happy to see that the outstanding middle distance pigeons of Gust were sold for their true value, especially because every fancier had the opportunity to buy pigeons, including those who did not want to spend too much on a new pigeon.

It meant a lot to Gust that fanciers appreciated the true value of his pigeons. He was very positive. “I hope they will all be in good hands”, were his last words before the auction started. “I have always loved my pigeons.” “I am not surprised”, I said. “I think you will be missing your pigeons very soon.” After the auction I went to Ostend with ‘De Lange’ Van der Wal, known as the caretaker of Piet van Kempen, a champion in the six day races. We went to visit Charles Vanderespt, one of the biggest champions ever to have existed in pigeon racing. We gave him a call but he would not be home for another hour. He was still at the Championship’s day in Moere. So we went for a walk along the harbour and the seaside boulevard. The sea was calm and some fishing boats were entering the port. ‘Lange’ Van der Wal said: “I think the best pigeons come from here at the coast and there is nothing you can do about it. Back in the days you had great champions all over the country: Bricoux, Duray,… even though they lived in a so called bad location. In some seasons they had some great results. That is no longer the case today: all prizes are won by pigeons from West-Flanders. They are impossible to beat. The Vandevelde breed from Oudenburg must have been quite amazing.” “That is true”, I replied. “Did you know that Charles Vanderespt was in fact as important as Theo Vandevelde himself? In fact Charles has been as successful and has had a much longer career.”

‘De Lange’ had a surprised look. “I had no idea. Tell me all about it!” He was curious. During our one hour walk along the coastline, some abandoned hotels and the statue of Leopold II I told him what I knew about Charles from conversations I had with him.

The old master Charles Vanderespt in Ostend (Oudenburg): uncle Charel together with his cousins,
the Vanderespt brothers in Leffinge. They were the sons of his brother Jules, champion of Belgium in Cureghem-Centre.

The story begins in 1985. Charles was eleven years old when he got his first pigeons. The family of Jordaan Vanderespt, a baker, did not live in Leffinge yet; they owned a house in the tiny village of Leke close to the St. Pieters chapel, between Diksmuide and Gistel. His father started as a fancier in 1875. He saw Vandevelde move to Oudenburg, where he would become one of the greatest stars in pigeon racing. His sons Charles and Jules have seen the star rise as well. His sons were more stubborn compared to their father and as fanciers, they were more clever as well.

Remi Buyse from Hooglede once told me an interesting story. Back in the days there were no gummirings yet. The fancier had to run to his club with his pigeon in a cloth bag. In many cases the battle between the running fanciers was a close call that was decided only in the final metres. Charles kept on thinking about a solution to this problem. One day he came up with the idea of using the mule of his baker’s cart as a racing horse. He secretly prepared the mule for its new task. By next Sunday the villagers were caught by surprise when they saw Charles and his wild mule overtaking the fanciers on foot and reaching the club first. The older fanciers said in jest that Charles, that young lad, might well become a decent fancier one day. They were correct.

The first pigeons of Charles were in fact not quite good. He had a couple of blacks that Maris, a friend of his, had caught in the church tower. When the family moved to Leffinge his children were old enough to help their father in the bakery and soon they had a say in the family. They started building a loft on top of the horse shed (the mule was retired by then). I believe it was Jules who told me that the platform was decorated with two old wooden figures shaped like a friar that he’d found somewhere in the attic. Meanwhile the boys went all the way to Snaaskerke in Oudenburg to sell bread. It was then that master Vandevelde, who was head of a school near Waregem, had his first successes as a fancier. It did not take long before he was a client of Charles. Rumour had it that he did not buy his bread but that he talked about pigeons with him. Father Jordaan complained that his sons spent all their time in that pigeon loft. At a certain point in time Theo Vandevelde had the opportunity to buy his rental house. Jordaan Vanderespt offered him financial support and Vandevelde could soon buy his rental house. As a result the Vanderespt family never had to pay anything for the outstanding blue coloured Vandevelde pigeons. Yet the Vanderespts family would give some of their best wheat flour to the wife of Vandevelde in exchange, because they knew she was a good cook.

A close friendship

Charles had a few free hours every Thursday so he helped to clean the loft of Theo Vandevelde. On Sundays he spent his days in the loft in Oudenburg as well, all throughout the year. After a while he would do any task, from coupling pigeons to waiting for their arrival. Vandevelde was usually not there early in the morning. Charles got up at four every morning; he could not stay in bed. Not only did Vanderespt fancy pigeons thanks to Vandevelde; he also got to meet his wife through him. On a Sunday one of Vandevelde’s best pigeons, the ‘Kletskop’, was missing. He was told that his pigeon had landed in the loft of Hénri De Duyvcr, an honest fancier from Gits. Hénri understood that it was a unique pigeon that should not be released. The two men mounted their bikes and rode to Gits.

For Charles this would be the first trip of many. Some time later he married Maria, one of his two daughters. The daughter of Charles and Maria is in turn married to the son of Remi Buyssche from Hooglede, another fancier.
It is often said that the pigeons of Vandevelde have some pure Wegge origins. According to old documents they have indeed been added to the breed (we will discuss this later on) but it is not true that the outstanding Wegge line has had as much influence on this breed as it had for instance on the breed of De Ridder from Dendermonde. In fact Wegge and Vandevelde had a lot more pigeons in their loft than most people think. According to the documents I have been able to read Vandevelde moved to Oudenburg in 1890 as a young teacher. He was born in Waregem, the alleged place of birth of the first true West-Flemish racing pigeon. When they were kids Theo Vandevelde and Geo Platteau, another fancier, have spent quite some time discussing pigeons. They were both fond of pigeon fancying at an early age. Thanks to their shared passion for pigeons they became close friends and that has never changed throughout their lives. Initially Vandevelde was not planning to keep racing pigeons in his loft. First of all he wanted to keep some so called fancy pigeons for their distinctive shape and plumage. However his brother Alfons had brought home a white cock one day. It had black spots on the wings and around the eyes. He had purchased it at a bird market in Waregem. Coincidently the mailman of Oudenburg had purchased an old couple from an old fancier (Karel Saelens) for the kitchen. One of them was a blue white pen. Vandevelde exchanged that white pen for a chequered young bird of his own breed. The new pigeon in his loft had yellow eyes and would become a great cock.

This means there were again some birds flying out in the loft of Vandevelde. On a certain day a painter, Edmond Vermoortel, was there to paint the house of Vandevelde and he suggested that he would train the pigeons. He insisted and Vandevelde agreed. Soon the ‘Witte’ and the ‘Blue White Pen’ would become the best pigeons in the region. Vermoortel has done a great service to pigeon racing in West-Flanders. The ‘Witte’ won a prize from Arras to Bordeaux. The ‘Blue White Pen’ won a 7th prize from Boreaux in Bruges. Unfortunately the bird got lost in the same race one year later.

The ‘Witte’ never managed to breed a good youngster. That is why Vandevelde sold him to G. Vanvije from Oudenburg. That did not mean he quit pigeon racing. In fact he was enjoying it. He purchased a young bird from Aimé Vandenbosch from Gent, a famous player at that time. This young bird, a dark coloured cock with orange eyes, was bred from an old breeding hen of Aimé. This is what a journalist wrote about it in an old magazine called ‘De Duivenbode’ published in Deerlijk: In the summer of 1900 his brother Alfons Vandevelde, who was a fancier in Waregem, gave him a slightly checkered hen. Only one of the two eyes of this hen had an orange colour. That is why it was given the name of ‘Verschillend Oogske’. It belonged to the lines of Delantsheere from Waregem. The ‘Zwarte’ of Aimé Vandenbosch was coupled with that same ‘Verschillend Oogske’ and the pair bred ‘De Sproete’, a chequered whitehead, which was one of the most famous pigeons in the loft of Vandevelde. This cock has yellow orange eyes and won first prizes from Angouleme. He also won a first prize from Tours and eight days later he won the first from Le Touquet with a three minute lead. The pigeon was basketed for a race in May 1904 and unfortunately he was stolen from its basket. At that time the breed of Alfons Vandevelde was entirely based around a brother of ‘Sproete’: ‘Het Blauw Papaatje’. This was an excellent racer and breeder.

The previously mentioned Edmond Vermoortel got his hands on a checkered cock from Antwerp. He was still taking care of the pigeons of Vandevelde at that time. He said that he had found the bird in the tower of the church. Others claim that it was a bird that was taken out of its basket in the club. Nobody knows since it is such a long time ago and rumours spread fast. He did not keep the pigeon from Antwerp for himself. Instead he placed it in the loft of Theo Vandevelde. He was a typical Antwerp pigeon, with dark orange eyes. The bird was coupled with a large blue hen of Alfons Vandevelde, which had light orange eyes. The two birds bred a checkered cock with dark orange eyes and he was called ‘Baron’. It would win many prizes as a later youngster in ’99, including a first prize from Bordeaux in Bruges with a three hours lead.

Only four other pigeons arrived in the country that same day, for instance a pigeon of Alfons Blondeel from Waregem and the feared ‘Wittesteert’ of Robberecht (Tielt). In that same race the ‘Witte’ won a 7th prize. Unfortunately the ‘Baron’ was lost in another race from Bordeaux fourteen days later. He was coupled with ‘Verschillig Oogske’ and they bred outstanding racers and breeders. They were strong, had a good plumage and had light orange eyes. They bred ‘Dikke’, a checkered cock, ‘blokske’, a checkered hen and ‘Schone Blauwe Duivin’, which was the dam of ‘Bleke’ and ‘Blauwe’ of René Gurnay (Verviers). These two birds were among the strongest pigeons ever to have existed. The first egg from the pair ‘Verschillig Oogske’ and ‘Baron’ was gifted to Geo Platteau from Gistel. This youngster was very good as a young bird and Geo was very satisfied with it. That is why Vandevelde decided to continue to breed with this pair.

‘Baron’ was also coupled with a brown coloured hen from the Vandenbosch lines from Gent. They bred ‘Witoge kouse’, a light checkered hen with white eyes (winner of several prizes). ‘Grote Lichtgeschelpte duivin’ had been sold to Alfons Vandevelde as a young bird earlier on. This hen was coupled with ‘Oude Kletsekop’, a bird of the Bazas line of Jules Cras. ‘Bazas’ was a black checkered cock with very orange eyes. This couple has bred ‘Lompe’, who won a big race from Bordeaux together with his brother. Vandevelde had obtained the ‘Oude Kletskop’ from Felix Walraevens from Waregem. It was a nice, not too big cock with chestnut eyes, a rich plumage, short beak and a graceful head. The pigeon belonged to the lines of Luik.

The ‘Blokske’ was coupled with a blue cock from the loft of Alfons Vandevelde. The pair bred ‘Barones’, which was never trained and would only be used as a breeding bird. The old ‘Kletsekop’ was coupled with a checkered hen with orange eyes in the loft of Vandevelde. That hen came from Borgerhout. The two bred two youngsters, one of which was a wonderful checkered cock with two orange eyes, called ‘Jonge Kletskop’. He proved unbeatable in races from Creil and Dax. In 1903 he won the first prize from Ruffec with a 45 minute lead.

The ‘Jonge Rode’ of Geo Platteau won a fourth prize in that same race. The ‘Jonge Kletskop’ was fifth in Union Gent in the race from Bordeaux; it arrived at 4:08 in the morning. Four other pigeons arrived at the same day: two pigeons of Lippens in Gent and pigeons from Deboutte and Catulle from Ingelmunster.

The ‘Jonge Kletskop’ and ‘Sproete’ were among the very best pigeons in the club in Ostend. As young birds they were sometimes able to beat the old birds in races from Arras and Orleans. A brother of them was removed from the loft because it had smallpox.