I guess some of you are curious to know more about a renowned pigeon fancier from West Flanders, who was expelled from races already twenty years ago. That fancier won two first, a second and a fourth national prize at the long distance in 1949. Well, in this article we discuss the career of Oscar Devriendt!
Due to a mistake in the points classification of the official championship of the BDB Oscar Devriendt only just missed the championship title. That explains why he has always been a fairly unknown fancier. In 1951 he proved that he was in fact as successful as Andre Vanbruane. Since then he has been one of the world champions of pigeon racing.
Why did this successful fancier not get the attention he deserved?
Why did he get a lot less attention compared to some of the other successful fanciers? This reminds us of the cyclist Philip Thijs: he won the Tour de France three times and yet people said he was just an ordinary cyclist who was not particularly talented. Some would even say that he was not at all a good cyclist; it had all been a matter of luck. However, insiders said that he never had a flat tyre because he always saw even the tiniest objects on the road. His attentiveness indicated that he raced not only with his legs but also with his head: he was a clever and intelligent rider. Some say he never got tired! These are very useful qualities but it does not make him a remarkable cyclist.
Oscar Devriendt is a reserved and friendly fancier from West Flanders and because of his personality, which is difficult to describe, he does not draw a lot of attention. When people are talking about Oscar they will usually only refer to his results, which usually speak for themselves. During the racing season these results appear at a weekly basis and in all pigeon magazines in Belgium. These results are simple facts. Action speaks louder than words. “It’s not my fault”, says Devriendt. “If my pigeons are ready, they will win prizes.”
This was probably the only time that Oscar ever boasted about his own achievements. Usually he only boasts about the achievements of his opponents! It seems that the journalists seem to write a lot about the results of other fanciers in Belgium but they never report about the achievements of Oscar Devriendt. In the winter of ’52 he suffered from a serious disease, of which he has not yet completely recovered.
In 1950, when I wrote my first article about him he was still healthy and strong. No one could have foreseen that he would be faced with this illness, which would eventually result in unemployment and he was forced to quit pigeon racing. On Monday 24 April 1950 I was in the railway station in Brussels and I had planned to take a train to The Netherlands. In the final instance and without a good reason I decided to take the train to Ostend instead. The train was about to leave in only a few minutes’ time; on and a half hour later I was in Ostend. It was a cold and wet day. Snow was expected that day, as well as rough winds, especially around the Strait of Dover and along the canal. With such weather conditions you can hear the ocean roar. There was some stormy weather in this coastal town and the wind blew through the empty streets. Strangely enough it was nearly May. There was white blossom and white snow at the same time. There was a dark grey sky and low clouds. I walked along the coast for an hour with a thick coat and a scarf.
I spent the night in hotel Terminus Maritime and the next morning I was on the train to Moere. It was before 8 o’clock when I arrived at the home of Oscar Devriendt. There was a heavy wind that blew away the white clouds in the sky and soon the sun started shining. Oscar was busy cleaning the lofts but he soon came to welcome me. It had visited him before and it would not be my last visit here. Still, today was a special visit: I had planned to make a study of the pigeon breed of Devriendt and to unravel the pedigrees and origins of these amazing pigeons. I’ve always had an interest in the genealogy of pigeons...
Oscar Devriendt is a prosperous man from Huisuit and he is 60 years old. He has a few properties as well as a nice fabric store, which was opened recently. He used to live in that house but now he moved to the other side of the street, together with his pigeons.
It’s hard to tell the age of Oscar. He was still vivid and he still looked very well. He used to say: “A pigeon fancier is a happy man who lives longer than any other man.” He has experience of life and he knows a lot about people. Devriendt started playing with the pigeons when he finished school, which is about fifty years ago. He went to school in Roeselare but he did not have the honour to meet the West Flemish poet Guido Gezelle and his pupil Hugo Verriest. That was before his time.
Already in 1907 he owned pigeons of the Cools brothers from Eernegem, near Gistel. He purchased pigeons from Jeroen Staelens in 1912, just like the Cattrijsse brothers. Jeroen Staelens was the renowned Arras specialist. He obtained a few pigeons from his loft and he also purchased some birds at his auction in Eernegem. They did not cost a lot but most pigeons were fairly cheap in those days.
That same year he purchased a couple of young birds at the auction of Louis Vereecken from Torhout. Nobody knows if this purchase was a success; two years later the First World War broke out and none of these pigeons survived. The town of Moere was occupied by the German army and it was used as gun position for the feared Big Bertha howitzers of marshal Von Kluck and Prince Albert von Würtemberg. From here they bombarded Nieuwpoort and Diksmouide, as well as Veurne and Duinkerke.
Oscar Devriendt was a soldier who fought along the Yser river in Diksmuide. He fought for King Albert under the 1st and 13th regiment artillery and he did well. He was one of many unknown soldiers in the growing allied army that withstood numerous mortar attacks and that eventually forced the German forces to surrender. After four years in the trenches, where so many lives were lost. Oscar Devriendt did not talk a lot about the war: “The canons stood behind the frontline. A lot of soldiers were in a worse position than me.” He demobilized in July 1919.
Despite what happened in that cruel world he still had his love of pigeons. Soon after the war Oscar paid a visit to Theo Vandevelde from Oudenburg, the unbeatable champion of 1914, the strongest fancier in West Flanders and definitely one of the most proficient Belgian pigeon fanciers in the first part of the century. Devriendt purchased four youngsters from 1919. They were blue chequered youngsters and they had already had their first training flights.
One of these young blue hens was bred from a cock of Vandevelde and she laid her eggs in the loft of Devriendt. She bred a colossal blue breeding cock called ‘Zwartentik’. This name appears quite often in the pedigrees of Oscar Devriendt, because every time the pigeon with that name died he gave it to one of its descendants. In other words Oscar has always had a ‘Zwartentik’ in his loft, for over 35 years.
The first ‘Zwartentik’ spent his life in the loft of Devriendt, where he was coupled with a blue hen of his cousin René Devriendt from Moere. René had the bloodlines of Ancke from Veurne, with which he was very successful in the races from as far as Orleans. This pair bred the second ‘Zwartentik’ and the ‘Wittentik’, just to name a few. These were renowned racing pigeons in races from Breteuil and Bordeaux and everything in between. In the following years he added several other pigeons of his cousin and he used them to create his own pigeon breed.
Devriendt was successful right from the start; his pigeons did great. Many fanciers knew what to expect from him. In that same period he married Gusta Van Havel, the niece of possibly the best and most versatile road cyclist Belgium has ever had: the renowned “Flandrien” Jules Van Hevel from Ichtegem. West Flanders seems to be the home of pigeon fanciers and cyclists...
In the years 1924-25 Oscar became friends with the Depuydt brothers from Aertrijke, a family of brewers. They bred with the bloodlines of Frans De Loof from Ledeberg, who has for instance pure De Ridder pigeons from Dendermonde, as well as pigeons of the French champion Paul Sion and his friend Julien Commine. Frans De Loof was an international poultry inspector; he was part of a team of inspectors that assessed the quality of pedigree chickens and other poultry in Belgium and abroad. He was a colleague of Jules Depuydt, one of the (many) Depuydt brothers.
The Depuydt brothers owned one pigeon of the De Loof line. It was a small and seemingly insignificant pigeon but it was an amazing racer; it was called ‘Ijzeren’. It was a well known pigeon in the region and this pigeon was the reason for Oscar to pay the brothers a visit. Oscar did not only see the famous ‘Ijzeren’ in the loft; he also noticed a hen that he particularly liked. That’s why he advised the Depuydt brothers to couple her with ‘Ijzeren’. He also proposed to exchange some of the youngsters of this couple with the youngsters of his best breeding pairs. A deal was made and both the Depuydt brothers and Oscar Devriendt were very satisfied with the exchange. It was then that Devriendt introduced a blue hen of Cattrijsse in his loft. The Cattrijsse brothers were the coming men at that time. This hen was a daughter of their old ‘Vanderespt’, so the hen belonged to the Vandevelde bloodline. She was coupled with a cock of his cousin René Devriendt and they bred three wonderful racing pigeons. One of them, the ‘Goede Molenaarde’, won three first prizes in one week’s time. She was soon placed in the breeding loft, where she was coupled with ‘Puitje’, a small yet strong cock and a son of ‘Ijzeren.
This first great breeding couple of Oscar Devriendt soon bred several excellent top prize winners. Back in the days the pigeons were usually not released further than Orleans. The pigeons of Devriendt were so dominant in the small middle distance that he was no longer allowed to take part in the competitions in the region. After a few years he had a good quality breed with potential that was based on pigeons of Vandevelde, Devriendt, Cattrijse and Depuydt. Meanwhile Devriendt was forced to focus on the provincial and interprovincial races; the long distance. Soon his name appeared at the top of the results of the important national races. It became apparent that the pigeons of his cousin were a bit too weak for the long distance. They did what they could and sometimes they had a great result but they were worn out too soon. Devriendt noticed this and he came to a conclusion. He also crossed his ‘Goede Molenaarde’ hen with the ‘Oudepenne’, which was a white coloured and pure Vandevelde pigeon. The youngsters that he bred from this couple were exactly what he was looking for.
Vandevelde had never had anything else but strong pigeons in his loft. His pigeons were great in the long distance and they could bear the heat of the sun. The ‘Oudepenne’ had won an eighth prize from Bordeaux in the Union of West Flanders. His sons, the ‘Bronze’ and the ‘Zwarteplekke’ would eventually beat their father, especially in longer and more demanding competitions.
In 1939 the ‘Bronze’ had his crowning achievement with his first prize from Bordeaux in the Union of West Flanders. Devriendt added one more Vandevelde pigeon to his breed that he had further developed. This pigeon was ‘Charel’, a cock of his friend Charles Vanderespt from Ostend. He purchased him in 1935 and he was coupled with a hen of Vandevelde in the loft of Devriendt. This pair bred ‘Bronzen Sproete’ in ’39 and he was to become the stock sire of nearly all big post-war champions (see for instance the pedigrees below). His partner was a chequered hen from ’39 bred from ‘Sinjoor’, a cock of Juul Beernaert from Antwerp and ‘Wittikske’ of Depuydt. Two brothers of this chequered hen were ‘Dromer’ and ‘Filosoof’. These were amazing racing pigeons, probably some of the best pigeons that Devriendt has ever had. To keep things short I will skip these episodes. “These are stories for the pigeon magazines”, said Devriendt, who was already focusing on next season. Still, I would like to point out that the pigeons ‘Bronzen Sproete’ of ’39 and ‘Geschelpt’ have laid the basis for the tremendous improvement of my pigeon breed after the Second World War, despite the disastrous race in 1946 that nearly ruined his career as a fancier.
This breeding couple has bred:
l) The blue coloured ‘Sproete’ hen from ’41, which is the dam of ‘Zwartenband’, winner of a first national prize from Angouleme national derby in 1946 with a 22 minute lead over the second pigeon, which belonged to André Vanbruanee. This pigeon would become even stronger in 1950 and ’51!
2) The blue coloured hen from ’42, the dam of the feared ‘Bulte’ of Henri Casteleyn from Moere, which was the fastest pigeon in the region. This hen has spent quite some time in the Cattrijsse loft, where she was a breeder.
3) The ‘Korte’, a late youngster from ‘45
4) The ‘Kletsekop’ from '46,
5) ‘Levientje’ from '46.
‘Trimard’ is a half brother of all of these famous pigeons. He was bred from the same sire but from a different hen: the blue Vandevelde hen, which is also the dam of the strongest racer in the loft: the ‘Pauw’. This pigeon is a sensitive subject for our big West Flemish champion. He won a first national prize from Cahors (1314 pigeons) and a second national prize from Bergerac (1715 pigeons) in the memorable season of 1949. His sire is a pale coloured cock called ‘Prins’; a grandson of the ‘Goede Molenaarde’ hen. I would like to come back to the neck and neck race between the Cattrijsse brothers and Devriendt in 1946 at the Belgian Championship in Cureghem-Centre.
Initially Devriendt had an advantage in the very demanding races. However, the Cattrijsse brothers had managed to catch up with him by the end of the season. Eventually the young birds’ race from Limoges was the decisive race. Oscar Devriendt was not very optimistic about this final race. He said: “I’m afraid that this could be a difficult race for me.” However, other fanciers reminded him of the fact that his pigeons were usually very successful and difficult to beat in the more demanding races.
“Yes I know”, said Oscar, “but what can we expect from a young bird that has not gained a lot of experience yet?” Devriendt was right: it was an unsuccessful race and a lot of the pigeons lost their sense of direction. Less than ten young birds had crossed the country by Saturday evening. Pigeons could arrive until Monday evening so the Cattrijsse brothers had enough time to win a few prizes with the young birds. This eventually resulted in the championship title and the prize money.
Devriendt suffers defeat
Oscar lost the championship despite his second and fourth national from Bergerac, his first national prize from Cahors (with a 16 minute lead) and his first national from Angouleme (a 22 minute lead) and other top prizes. “No reason to cry”, said Devriendt, “we’ll come back next year.” How did he do in the following year? In 1950 Devriendt won the first and fifth interprovincial from Chateauroux (against all the big names in West and East Flanders and Hainaut), a 12th national from Montauban, a second national from Libourne, a third international from Libourne, a fourth national and international from Barcelona, the first and fifth national from Limoges derby (two year olds), a first and 14th national Limoges, a 7th national from Argenton and a 6th national from La Souterraine. I have only included the prizes that were won by the first pigeons that arrived home. In most races there were a lot more pigeons that won prizes.
The Championship in the Entente Belge was won by Daniël Labeeuw from Bissegem that year. He had a breed of Stichelbaut pigeons.
How about 1951 ?
In '51 the Championship of the Belgian Pigeon Fanciers’ union, which is the most official Belgian championship since pigeon racing came into existence, Oscar, André Vanbruane from Lauwe and Julien Matthijs held to a draw. If it was not for the bad luck that he had in this championship Oscar could have won two official titles in only three years’ time. The season of 1950 was his most successful season after the war.
In 1951 Oscar Devriendt wins a 22nd national from Montauban, a 15th national from Dax, a 5th national from Libourne, a third national from Pau, a first national from St. Vincent (with a one hour lead), and many more prizes. Oscar had not expected this himself. His best pigeon ‘Pauw’ had an injury in the race from Angouleme 1950 and he had not yet completely recovered. Before his injury he had won for instance a second national from Bergerac, a first national from Cahors etc. ‘Lieventje’ was a successful pigeon as well, with a 12th national from Montauban and a third from Bordeaux. Unfortunately he got lost in this season’s race from Barcelona.
It was the first season since 1945 that Oscar could not count on his ‘Korten’. He had already noticed it in March. This pigeon has already won a 22nd national from Montauban, a 4th national from Bergerac etc. The ‘Vale Witoge’, a full brother of ‘Pauw’ and one of the most promising pigeons for 1951, won a fourth provincial from Orleans in the Union of West Flanders, which is the biggest long distance organisation worldwide! However, the pigeon was upset after the disastrous race from Tulle, after which Oscar decided to keep the pigeon inside for the rest of the season. He was not used in the breeding loft either.
This pigeon had already won a 2nd national Libourne and a third national, a fifth national from Limoges (Derby), a 15th national from Limoges etc. The ‘Zitter’, which is a son of ‘Pauw’, was not raced very often as a two year old, because he had been flying too much as a yearling. “This is really a good pigeon”, said Oscar”, “so you have to give it some time off once in a while.” In 1951 only a half of the racing team of Devriendt had been able to take part in the championship. The day when the renowned ‘Zwartenband’ had won the first national from St. Vincent, only two pigeons had been able to reach their loft in Belgium. The ‘Zwartenband’ had a lead of one hour! He had already made a solo flight from Angouleme, where he won a first prize with a 22 minute lead!