The superiority of Flemish fanciers, as recorded in 1951: how much has changed?

In 1951 the fanciers from West Flanders were simply unbeatable. Never before have the fanciers from around the coast been so dominant as today. Is this still the case today? And if so, why? For one thing, the release sites were almost the same as today.

Let’s take a look at the winners of the national long distance races:

 2 June Cahors      Cattrijsse Brothers in Moere
 9 June Tulle       Remi Gadeyne in Hooglede
16 June Montauban   Bruno Waelkens in Nieuwenhove-Waregem
23 June Libourne    Valeer Docker in Moorsele
30 June Dax         Cattrijsse in Moere
 7 July Barcelona   Jos. Boels in Stene-Conterdam
14 July Bilbao      St. Elooi in Gentbrugge
14 July St. Vincent Oscar Devriendt in Moere
21 July Brive       Julien Mathijs in Vichte
28 July Pau         André Vanbruaene in Lauwe
 4 Aug. Limoges     André Vanbruaene in Lauwe

We count nine victories for West Flanders and two for East Flanders. The provinces of Henegouwen, Brabant, Antwerp etc. could not deliver a winner. The champions of the remaining seven Belgian provinces were not successful.

Andre Vanbruaene and the Cattrysse Brothers won two nationals each in 1951

Andre Vanbruaene, Lauwe, 2 national victorries in 1951
1st national Pau
1st national Limoges

Cattrysse brothers, Moere, 2 national victories in 1951
1st national Cahors
1st national Dax

A fancier does not necessarily have to win a first national prize to prove that he has strong pigeons. Take, for instance, such fanciers as Charles Vanderespt from Oostende, the Vanderespt brothers in Leffinge, Maurice Delbar in Ronse, Fortuné Faignard from St. Sauveur etc. There is also Hector Berlengee from Aspelare in the extreme long distance races. Yet it is clear that the fanciers who take the important prizes all come from West Flanders. Even Pol Bostijn joined the competition after having sold all of his pigeons in the winter of 1950.

In April 1951 the calendar for the Championship of the B.D.B. was announced and I remember saying that it was so demanding that only some of the very best national long distance champions would have a chance of winning: the Cattrijsse brothers or Oscar Devriendt were some of the few candidates.  Charles Vanderespt had read my article and the newspaper was on the table when I paid him a visit. “I agree that it is a very tough competition”, said Charles, “but I think you have forgotten the best candidate of all”. I asked who he meant. “André Vanbruane”, he said. I replied: “On one condition: that he focuses entirely on the championship and that he does not spare his pigeons. I think André is not going to do that. He is too clever. He will forget about this championship, because he does not want to basket pigeons for Bilbao and Barcelona that have cost hundreds of thousands of Belgian Francs.” Charles hesitated: “His pigeons are just as strong as mine and he knows that there is a lot to be won, which is very important to him. I think he will be there. Believe me, if all goes to plan he will win quite some prize money.”

Charles was right

When the championship had drawn to an end it appeared that there were three candidates with the same number of points: Vanbruaene, Devriendt and Mathijs! The championship regulations were not unambiguous, which led to difficulties. Pigeon magazines started to interfere in the matter as well. Eventually there was nothing but confusion. Matthijs decided to get a solicitor; Vanbruane and Devriendt followed his example. The B.D.B. board was at its wits end. In order to settle the matter they had to organise a general meeting of the actual members. The major difficulty was to decide which of the two races from Limoges would count for the championship: the old birds or the young birds race.  A vote gave the following results: 41 members voted for Limoges old birds; 13 voted for Limoges young birds with 26 abstentions. These were the eventual results of the championship after this voting:

 1) André Vanbruaene from Lauwe          9 pr.   787 points
 2) Oscar Devriendt from Moere           9 pr.   504 points
 3) Jules Viaene from Koekelarc          9 pr.  1,196 points
 4) Julien Mathijs from Vichte           8 pr.   351 points
 5) Gebr. Cattrijsse from Moere          7 pr.   276 points
 6) Fortuné Faignard from St. Sauveur    7 pr.   324 points
 7) Maurice Delbar from Ronsse           7 pr.   772 points
 8) Karel Vangampelaere from Koekelare   7 pr.   860 points
 9) Marcel Desmet from Waregem           7 pr.   882 points
10) Gebr. Vanderespt from Leffinghe      6 pr.   174 points
11) Charles Vanderespt from Oostende     6 pr.   665 points
12) Robert Fievez from Peronnes          6 pr.   690 points
13) Valeer Docker from Moortzele         6 pr.   875 points
14) Henri Casteleyn from Moere           5 pr.   920 points
15) Urbain Deguffroy from Wingene        5 pr.   457 points

On 2 December 1951 the first Champion of the Belgian Pigeon Fanciers’ Union (Belgische Duivenliefhebbersbond or B.D.B.) was officially honoured in Brussels. He received a wonderful cup in solid silver with a golden edge, awarded by his Majesty King Boudewijn. It was clear that the B.D.B. had acquired a taste for organising official championships: the championship of 1952 had a less demanding schedule and no less than one million Belgian Francs in prize money could be won! However, the fanciers from Wallonia were not satisfied. The Flemish and the Walloons have always had a troubled relationship; there have been frictions about every aspect of society.

The outstanding performances of the West Flemish champions in the important national long distance races annoyed many other fanciers and their superiority was of course a hot topic all over the country. However, fanciers from Liège, Charleroi and Brussels reacted differently compared to fanciers from Kortrijk, Oostend, Ghent and Antwerp.  Some fanciers decided to speak up. Arthur Broze, a controversial fancier from Charleroi who used the nickname Carolo, had already caused resentment. He wrote that the Flemish fanciers had been boycotting the national pre-war races (from the days of Bricoux, Duray, etc.) because they always suffered defeat there. He was convinced that the race programme of the Entente Belge benefitted the Flemish so much that the fanciers from Wallonia and Brussels should in turn stay away from these races. This sparked a storm. Vermeyen was the first to raise his voice in the De Duif magazine: “I think we should give Carolo and that newspaper a stupidity award.” He explained: “Back in the days when Bricoux, Duray and other great Walloon fanciers were dominating the Entente Belge, they were already doing races from Angouleme, Bordeaux and Pau. The races are still the same as back then but Bricoux and Duray are no longer here so the Walloons might well just stay out of the Entente Beige.”

“Why not race with west wind only, to make sure that the fanciers from Liège win everything, just like in the race of Angouleme ’28 (which took place during the Water Exhibition in Liège) or Chateauroux ’49?” I would agree to some extent. I think that wind, the number of pigeons and the location of your loft mainly decide what fanciers have the advantage in a national race. Nevertheless I think it would be fair to say that the fancier who

a) has to cover the shortest distance,
b) has a large group of pigeons
c) has the flight route over the least hilly terrain
will always have an advantage over fanciers with a low number of pigeons who have to fly very far and especially over hilly terrain (which is usually the case for fanciers from Belgium and East Holland for the longest distances). There is no denying that a Belgian fancier with a loft near the French border between Quévy and the sea has a much better location for the national races compared to fanciers with a loft along the Dutch-Belgian border between Turnhout and Eupen, Malmedy or Liège. I use the two extremes to prove my point. In addition a loft along the coastline has an advantage over lofts along the German border. There are not a lot of complaints about this location from fanciers along the German border, simply because there almost no pigeon lofts in the region around Houffalize. The same applies to The Netherlands but there is a difference: there are actually fanciers in the region around Nijmegen and Enschede, which is illustrated by the fact that there is a flight route in Austria. Limburg in The Netherlands is a different story: there is a separate union over there with their own clubs. The fanciers from Limburg race against Zeelandic Flanders twice a year over the most interesting distance: 1,000 km.

Back in those days they did races from the east (Cüstrin, Posen, etc) but that is quite a while ago. In these races you could see that fanciers from Gelderland and Overrijssel had quite a few talented pigeons! Nowadays it is mostly the case that Twente has a much bigger advantage over the rest of the country in a race from the east compared to the advantage that the fanciers from Zeeland and West Brabant have in a south-west race. This is because there is often a lot of wind in the south-west of The Netherlands. As a result Twente and the northern part of The Netherlands are in a similarly advantageous position as the fanciers from Zeelandic Flanders when there is a north-east wind. In that case they benefit both from their location and from the wind.

All of these factors have to be taken into consideration, whether you like it or not. Fanciers from Liège and Dutch fanciers from the north and the east quite often have a disadvantageous location. That does not mean it is impossible for these fanciers to achieve a good result in a national competition. The strange thing is that when the fanciers from Liège can take advantage of a north-west wind it will be a much discussed subject among fanciers.  I will not try to defend them, even though they have suffered defeat quite a few times in the last few years. However I would like to point out that their unfavourable location cannot be the only reason for their poor results. I have noticed over the years that almost every fancier in that region uses the same excuse: they all say that their location is not good. It seldom happens that a fancier does not complain about the location. This is quite amusing. It seems that every champion makes excuses: one blames the wind; the other blames a low number of pigeons or the flight route etc.

Some time ago I gave a presentation about pigeons in Poperinge, which is situated in the south west corner of Belgium. During the era of Michel Fache from Westouter, many fanciers agreed that Poperinge (near Ieper) was a very advantageous location. At the moment Poperinge still has a few good fanciers but they are no match for Michel Fache.

The lofts of Michel Fache, Westouter, Poperinge

Have a look at the results of Michel Fache:

1897 Vendome, national in Brussels (1,802 pigeons) : 2nd, 12th, 16th, 19th, 37th, 49th and 172nd.
1898 Vendome, national in Brussels (1,427 pigeons) : 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, 18th, 22nd, 25th, 43rd, 70th, 86th, 105th and 122nd.
This was in the era of Wegge, De Herdt and De Ridder!

1899 Salbris, national in Brussels (1,491 pigeons) : 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 10th, 12th, 36th, 51st 86th, 114th, 118th and 175th.
This was an unparallelled success!
During the war of '14-'18 the pigeon breed of Fache was completely lost. With the help of his friend Arnouts from the Kempen he recovered four old hens and three very old cocks, with which he could restart his breed.

This is a result that he achieved several years later:
1931 Burgos, Spain 1,225 km international in Brussels: 3rd, 6th, 12th, 14th, 18th, 38th, 47th and 70th!

To achieve these results you need to have a magnificent pigeon breed and we could say that he had a good location as well. Still, some of today’s fanciers in Poperinge complain about their location, saying that the majority of the pigeons fly inland, past their town.

The pigeon breeds of Charles Bremdonckx from Berendrecht and Georges Van Havermaet from Klinge, two brewers who lived near the Dutch border, were quite impressive as well. Their pigeons performed particularly well in tough weather. However, because of their disadvantageous location the pigeons were never able to show their abilities in the national races, even though they were very strong. I can agree that Berendrecht is not a good location. However, I cannot agree with all the fanciers from Poperinge who use this excuse for not being able to win prizes in the Entente Belge. That seems a bit ridiculous. It should not surprise that fanciers from Wallonia and Brussels have similar excuses.

Somebody once made a comparison between the course of a race in Cureghem-Centre and one in the Entente Belge. As we know the national races organised in Cureghem (named after a suburb of Brussels) come mostly from the south, whereas the pigeons in the Entente Belge usually fly from the southwest. That explains why many Walloon fanciers perform a lot better in Cahors, Montauban etc. than for instance in Angouleme or Libourne.

In the race from Montauban in 1950, we saw the following names, that should give us an idea of the leading lofts at that time:
Pinnez (Lodelinsart), Staumont (Villers-la-Ville), Close (La Louvière), Bryssinck (La Louvière), Tilmant (Buvinnes), Moriamé (Walcourt), de Genettes (Jambes en Bonneville), Duray (Pardonge), Vanderhauwaert (Wez), Dutilleul (Charleroi), Schamps (Walcourt), Dehasque (La Louvière), Cremerinne (Macon), Delporte  (Biesme), Petit (Gouy-lez-Pieton) etc.

However, the first prize was won by a Flemish fancier (who had to cover a extra distance): Jos Boels from Stene (Ostend). Strangely enough, the pigeons of the Cattrijsse Brothers, who dominated the field in the Entente Belge on the south-west line, arrived too late from Montauban. It had been a hot day and there was almost no wind. The first pigeons reached a velocity of 1,100 m/min or possibly a bit more. In any case the Walloons did not have the advantage of a strong wind. I tend to believe that the results from Montauban were most of all a coincidence but that does not explain everything of course. In other words: the fact that many fanciers from Charleroi were so successful in this race has to do with an unknown factor. In most other races the prizes were won by the fanciers from West Flanders. Yet the Walloon fanciers had an explanation for the fact that they did not win very often.

They believed that their pigeons had a major disadvantage on the southwest line, because they want to avoid the Massif Central (a mountainous region in central France) at any price. That is why their pigeons would stay in the main group that flies around it travelling westwards. This means they have to cover a much longer distance compared to the pigeons from West Flanders: they can fly home in a fairly straight line whereas the pigeons from Wallonia fly in a curved line. This would not be the case when the pigeons come from the south or the south-east, which would explain why the Walloons perform a lot better in the Cureghem-Centre races.

Hector Berlengee from Aspelare

Clever thinking but some questions arise:
1) There are quite a lot less fanciers from West Flanders and Antwerp who take part in the Cureghem-Centre competition. Could this explain why the Walloon fanciers win a lot more top prizes in Cureghem-Centre than in the Entente Belge?
2) Could it be that the Walloon fanciers basket their best pigeons for Cureghem-Centre only?
These are crucial points if we want to assess the situation. Any too simplistic explanation could lead to an incomplete truth. I was once waiting for the pigeons in Moere. It was the day of the national St. Vincent, organised by Fleurus in Wallonia. The results counted for the official championship of the BDB. That was the only reason why fanciers from the coast took part as well. Otherwise they would not have made the trip. The program was already demanding enough as it was.

There were about 3,000 pigeons in the race. Only 30 of them came from the province of West Flanders. The large (if not an overwhelming) majority came from Wallonia. The renowned Zwartenband of Oscar Devriendt, one of the very best racing pigeons in Belgium in the last few years, won the first prize. André Vanbruaene, Leopold Bostijn and the Cattrijsse brothers finished in the top 10 as well. It was one of many crushing victories for the West Flemish fanciers. I seem to remember that about 12 of the thirty West Flemish pigeons in this race finished in the national top 40 or 50. This defeat was just too much for the Walloons. They said it illustrated their point that the pigeons that come from the south-west follow the coastline and that the number of pigeons (which they believe is decisive in the middle distance and the sprint) does not play a significant role in the long distance races from the south-west. The age old conflict between Flanders and Wallonia seemed unbridgeable and eventually the national competition lost some of its meaning: the West and East Flemish fanciers were no longer allowed in the Walloon competition in 1953! A second measure to bring back the lost glory of the Walloon fanciers (for instance Bricoux and Duray, who were highly successful in the Entente in the south-west races) was to relocate the flight route and move it even further to the east, despite the fact that some of the West Flemish fanciers were past their best at that time. Some of their pigeon breeds were not as strong as in the period between 1948 and 1951 anymore.

Vermeyen, who was not fond of the national competition, gave his opinion in the De Duif magazine: “I think it is amusing that the south-east direction has suddenly become the best flight route for them. Apparently they forgot that they had abandoned this route for years because they were losing a lot of pigeons in the valley of the Rhône. They think this new flight route will bring the solution and they start by excluding two provinces. It seems that they would rather race against each other than to race against the big champions. I am confident that the route along the Rhône is a dead end street. The weather, the pigeons, the landscape: everything is still the same as fifty years ago, when they used this route as well."

The races from Montelimar and Brive took place at the same time and it could be interesting to make a comparison: the distance was approximately the same, as well as the velocity of the pigeons. Brive was finished within an hour; Montelimar closed only the next day. The reason: a thunderstorm! Insiders told me that this was just an excuse. Others would blame the wind or the mountains along the route. As long as there is good weather in the Rhône valley the races will proceed as normal. Unfortunately for them, the weather is often difficult over there: in summer there is sometimes fog, which confuses the pigeons or forces them to take a different route. Sometimes there is a strong west or east wind, which inevitably blows the pigeons towards the mountains. Everybody who has seen this landscape knows that pigeons can have a hard time over there. Don’t the fanciers understand that this is why the fanciers from Southern France release their pigeons in Narbonne?

Of course I don’t mind how fanciers prefer to lose their pigeons; in the Pyrenees or in the Alps. However, I do not like the way fanciers are disturbed by other fanciers who want to defend their favourite flight lines. One of the readers suggested that these race organisers should actually move aside the Alps, the Vosges mountains and the Jura. It would be wise for them to first inform themselves about the influence of mountains on the wind and about the formation of wind. Now they just change things carelessly because they fear the Flemish fanciers. They want to win top prizes so they want to prevent the Flemish pigeons from showing their strength. That is why the organisers prevent the Flemish fanciers from using their best flight lines. That is also why they only race with seven provinces, which was a clever plan.

Unfortunately they are looking in the wrong direction:
1) Increase the distance so that it can count for national races.
There are different opinions about this and only experience can tell. Sooner or later even Bordeaux will be too nearby and pigeons will be released from Bayonne, Pau, St. Jean de Luz, Biarritz, St. Vincent, Dax, Mont de Marsan, Morcenx, there are plenty of options.
2) To make the distance the same for the southern, the central and the northern part of the country. This would be easy: pigeons for the south are released in St. Jean de Luz, pigeons for the central part are released in Dax and the pigeons for the north are released in Morcenx. It would be an interesting experiment!
(Although I think a second experiment would not be likely to follow.)
3) If we could work with doubles:


This would improve the situation a lot, under the condition that those who bet in their own district should also bet on the national race.  We have seen pigeons that were very successful at region level but not at all at provincial level! There should always be some competition. I would not advise the first option; in fact the second and third option have already been used a lot by race organisers in The Netherlands.