The Cattrysse brothers (Moere, BE) as recorded in 1951 - Part I

What if you were to ask a Belgian fancier more or less familiar with the big champions at national level (in the long distance competition), who he thinks is the most successful and most regular pigeon fancier in the years after the war? In other words: who are the big champions in Belgium and consequently the world champions of this time?

Every fancier will give you the same names, irrespective of whether he lives in Kortrijk, Hasselt, Verviers or Charlerloi. These names are the Cattrysse brothers and Oscar Devriendt from Moere, Huyskens-Van Riel from Ekeren-Donk and André Vanbruaene from Lauwe (near Wevelgem).

Many sports have national and world championships. Take for instance cycling. In 1947 Fiele Middelkamp from Kieldrecht took the title of World Champion in cycling, after a demanding race at the circuit in Reims. There was a scorching heat that nearly made the roads melt. One year later it was iron man Brik Schotte, the strong cyclist from Waregem, who took the title. He was said to have a peculiar way of riding his bike. He took the title in 1950 as well.

Gerard and Oscar Cattrysse

Besides his impressive victories at the world championships in Valkenburg and Moorslede, the strong West Flemish cyclist has also won numerous other titles, some of which might actually have been of greater intrinsic value than the title of world champion, because it is based on other criteria. I think of his victory in the Colombo-Desgrange classification. This classification is won by the cyclist who is the strongest over the entire season, whereas a world champion is the best athlete in a single day race. Tennis has a similar classification; in fact they have more than one. The most famous ranking is that of Wallis Meyers. In the sport of pigeon racing many championship competitions have been introduced but few of them were really satisfactory for the fanciers.

The Cureghem-Centre group organises a series of long distance races every season (with Barcelona as the highlight), which is related to a popular championship: the official title of Champion of Belgium, as well as prize money of 25,000 Belgian Francs. To make sure that no other organisations would misuse or claim the title of Champion of Belgium they had the idea to make it an official award, just like you would enter your company in the commercial register. There is also the Entente Belge, a group with a lot of goodwill. Their chairman is Jules Lenoir from Lessines, an organiser who also presides the sports commission of the K.B.D.B.

In 1949 the Cattrysse brothers from Moere won the title of Champions of Belgium in Cureghem-Centre. Their relentless race against Oscar Devriendt (from Moere as well) had a lot of suspense and the decision came in the final hours of the final race: the young bird race from Limoges. The Entente Belge had different names on the roll of honour. André Vanbruaene, the famous and feared fancier from Lauwe was the winner in 1949 and the friendly Daniel Labeeuw, a small fancier from Bissegem near Kortrijk was victorious in 1950. His pigeons came from the line of Stichelbout from Lauwe. In 1949, when the fanciers from Liège won all the top prizes from Chateauroux (5,000 pigeons) in the Soutien (think for instance of the overwhelming defeat in St. Elooi in Gentbrugge against Peeters-Beaufort from Herve) the two first national prizes were surprisingly won by Labeeuw and Vanbruane, two fanciers from West Flanders. There was also a third important championship in these days, which ended with a charity exhibition about the Belgian Racing Pigeon in the Salle de la Madeleine in Brussels.

The philosophy behind this championship, as well as the point classification that is used for it was thought up by the writer of this article.

In 1949 the General Champions (over the three categories, sprint, middle distance and long distance) were Huyskens-Van Riel, Vanbruane and the Cattrysse brothers respectively. In 1950 the Cattrysse brothers took the first prize, Huyskens-Van Riel moved to third place and André Vanbruane consolidated his second place. It is generally believed that this championship competition is the best indication of how strong the different fanciers really are. Needless to say that everybody wants to learn more about these champions. Every fancier wants to know how they managed to be successful season after season. People wonder about the bloodlines they used, their breeding methods, their widowhood system, their pigeons diet, etc. We see that fanciers from The Netherlands are increasingly interested in the great champions from Belgium as well.

Who are the Cattrysse brothers and where is Moere situated?

I give you the answer to the second question first, which is the easiest one. When you take the main road from Ostend to Torhout and Roeselare (where Guido Gezelle spent most of his days) you pass the town of Leffinge and the canal between Nieuwpoort and Passendale. At the crossing between the two provincial roads in Gistel you can see the pub called Au Tourmalet run by Sylveer Maes.

I would advise you to stop by to have a drink. Sylveer is one of a kind and he serves great brown beer. The pub is decorated with pictures and trophies that remind us of the glorious times of Flandrien Karel van Wijnendaele and of famous victories in Tour de France mountain stages. Félicien Vervaecke was born in Menen and he is a close companion of Sylveer Maes. Together they were always competing against the French and the Italian cyclists, often in severe weather conditions. Above the bar there is a picture of the two West Flemish cyclists, embracing each other covered in mud. The picture is taken in a small town in the Pyrenees. You can hardly recognise them: they are completely exhausted. This picture reminds us of the glorious times in the rich history of the sport of cycling in Flanders. Moere is situated near that pub.

Moere is a small communitiy with only 1,200 inhabitants. It is surrounded with farmlands and the famous Belgian seaside resort is three hours away. As soon as you leave the main road and you pass the church you turn to the left to enter the street where Gerard and Oscar Cattrysse live next to each other. There they have a grocery store. The roof of their warehouse is at least twenty metres high. Just below the roof, over the entire length of the building, the pigeons are housed in an open attic. The open windows sit next to each other and they are faced north.

Oscar and Gerard have two more brothers. Jules Cattrysse lives in Moere as well but he is not involved in the partnership. Georges Cattrysse lives in Diksmuide and runs a grocery store as well. He is also a fanatic pigeon fancier but even though he races with the same pigeon breed as his two brothers in Moere, he does not seem to be able to win prizes. This story illustrates that it takes more than just a good quality pigeon breed to become successful. The fancier has to know his job and he needs some luck as well.

We have now arrived in Moere, where the Cattrysse brothers are some of the most famous inhabitants. They have put in a lot of effort and they still do. Gerard is in the attic with his servants unloading a lorry. Large crates and boxes are being pulled up. Gerard hears the slamming doors of our car, because Moere is a very quiet town. Summer flowers grow here in every Flemish garden under a clear blue sky. Any unnatural sound is immediately noticed here. In Moerse there are probably more hay carts than there are modern day cars.

Gerard comes to see us. We are welcomed by the modest Belgian Champion of the big national races. We enter the house and we see a clean kitchen with nice tiles. Oscar is in the neighbourhood and he knew we were coming. He soon joins us. The two brothers make jokes; we ask them questions and they provide answers. I have already visited them quite a few times and every time my notebook comes in handy. This time I use it to write down some of their new successes. The De Cattrysses don’t rest on their laurels. Every season they win new top prizes, for over thirty years.

"Well”, says Oscar, “if you want to know more about us we will start from the beginning. We will start from the day when we started as fanciers and how things have been going.” Shortly after the First World War soldier Gerard Cattrysse visited the brewer Jef Hermans from Luythagen to buy a couple of youngsters for 110 Belgian Francs. The Cattrysse brothers were not successful with these birds. They know that if a combination does not work they have to get rid of the pigeons. There are two reasons why I tell you about this.

First of all, Jef Hermans and the Cattrysse brothers have become close friends throughout the years, based on mutual respect for the achievements and the pigeons of each other, even though they did not see each other a lot. A second reason is that the Cattrysse brothers would eventually become successful with a breed that later appeared to be closely related to the old breed of Hermans. This is a breed before the introduction of Bricoux pigeons, which turned Hermans into a famous pigeon fancier in the period before the war.

Mrs. Oscar Cattrysse

Let me tell you how that happened

In 1922 the Cattrysse brothers purchased a couple of chequered hens from Jules Vanderespt in Leffinge, which were bred from his famous Blauwen. This Blauwen had already won eight first prizes as a young bird and proved to be a big star as an old bird at every discipline.

Jules Vanderepst had bred Blauwen from the eggs that he obtained from Fons Vandevelde, a florist from Waregem. That was on Ascension Day in 1919. Jules would never forget that day. He purchased a couple of eggs that came from a few ordinary pigeons for a hundred Belgian Francs. He also bought two eggs from a so called special couple, which cost two hundred francs. As you might have guessed the youngsters of the special couple were not very useful and they did not breed good youngsters either. The cheaper youngsters were in fact much better. Eventually they turned the Cattrysse brothers into some of the best fanciers in Belgium.

The brothers learned their trade from none other than Charles Vanderespt, who managed to win the honorary title of King of Flanders. Charles won an astonishing 4,635 prizes between 1923 and 1935. He won 492 titles in 1934 and 518 titles in 1935, which makes a total of 1,010 prizes. In these two years he won no less than 53 first prizes and a whole lot of other top prizes. He could prace wherever he wanted, including Bordeaux and Arras. The crowning achievement was probably his first (and eleventh) international prize from Bordeaux Belgium-Holland in 1935, which took place in dreadful weather conditions. Charles Vanderespt was and still is a very experienced pigeon fancier who never hesitated to cross bloodlines.

In 1923 the Cattrysse brothers read a news article in Le Soir, which is the biggest newspaper in French speaking Belgium. There was a certain Pierre Decnop from Anderlecht who had won the three first prizes in the race from Dax. They went to visit him and they purchased a couple of youngsters from his best breeders for 500 Belgian Francs (12.5 Euros), which was quite a lot of money back then. They experimented with a crossing of these Decnop pigeons with Vanderespt lines, which failed against all expectations. The youngsters did not want to fly, even though they were kept in the loft for three years. Still, there was no question about the quality of the Jules Vanderespt cock. This cock was for instance coupled with a hen of Windels from Grammere and they bred Goliath, which was a very powerful pigeon over longer distances.

Surprisingly the hen of Decnop proved its value after all. She was paired with a chequered Vanderespt cock and this time she managed to breed strong racing pigeons. This illustrates how a crossing of two outstanding bloodlines does not guarantee an equally talented youngster.

Gerard bij de kweek- en weduwnaarsduivinnen

In 1936 the Cattrysse brothers made a smart move which proved decisive in their career as fanciers. It is a great memory and they often think back about this decisive moment years later. They purchased a magnificent blue hen from Emest (Nesten) Casteleyn from Gistel, which was then paired with the chequered Vanderespt. The couple bred an outstanding blue cock which they called Grote Blauwen. This is where the success story started for the Cattrysse brothers from Moere, the world champions of 1950. This is what I read about the late Nesten Cateleyn in an old edition of the De Noordduif magazine: He is one of the most celebrated fanciers in the long distance races. His breed has contributed to the composition and the improvement of many a West Flemish loft. He won long distance championships year after year; he was especially successful in the Milliet club in Diksmuide.

His breed was based around the pigeons of Vandevelde from Oudenburg. He had three hens from Velo, two young birds from Oude Vullen (which was also the sire of the feared Wittekop of Nestor Tremmery), two cocks from Oude Groten, a hen from Oude Elfpen, the sister of Vandevelde’s Napeolon, etc. Usually Casteleyn could obtain new pigeons fairly easily, because he also helped to take care of the pigeons of Vandevelde and he usually basketed them as well. This means he was in the same position as Jef Horemans (the brother of Corneel) and Vincent Marien, the big star in pigeon racing in Antwerp between 1925 and 30. Castelyn had further improved his Vandeveldes (which was not a pure breed) with pigeons of Charles Pauwels from Sas Van Gent (the De Ridder breed from Dendermonde, which were mainly Wegge-De Herdt pigeons!), pigeons of Henri Christeijns from Beveren-Oudenaarde and pigeons of Alfons Blondeel from Waregem (a fancier who would only buy the best pigeons available). According to some documents of an auction of Nesten Castelyn in 1922 he also had the bloodlines of Gits and Ulens!

The talent of the outstanding pigeons of Castelyn and their breeding quality is not only illustrated in his own loft. Mr. Boels from Stene-Conterdam (Oostend) was very successful with these pigeons as well: his blue Barcelona racers (a first national prize in 1951) stem from the old lines of Vandevelde-Christeijns of Ernest Casteleyn from Gistel.

One success story after the other

The two brothers who have been successful in pigeon racing also had their own merits, both as pigeon breeders and as racers. Most of all they had patience. We saw that a first pairing between two outstanding breeding lines initially failed. This does not mean you should get rid of these pigeons; they might still be useful. You should give these pigeons a second chance. I was once asked to exemplify this point. Here it goes.

A while ago we were having dinner in a restaurant in Brussels, near the Marché aux Charbons (or Kolenmarkt in Dutch). Duc Saeremans owned that restaurant but meanwhile he had moved to Dendermonde, where he runs a lemonade factory. We joined a group of fanciers, three or four of which were already in their 70s. This means there were plenty of interesting stories and I could sit and listen. One of these older fanciers had a good appearance and a white walrus moustache. He was a regular costumer for Fichefet, which no longer exists. There was also a West Flemish fancier who moved to Brussels several years ago but I cannot remember his name.

We were talking about Theo Vandevelde from Oudenburg and his undisputed talents and the patience he had with pigeons he really liked. Vandevelde would say: “If you want to be successful and stay successful you have to breed and train a lot of pigeons.” That was his rule of thumb. In other words: the secret of a champion is his breeding method.           You have to breed a large number of pigeons of good origins and you should not get rid of them too quickly. That is the way to eventually discover a great cock and a great hen.

Of course your group of pigeons has to be of good quality. Eventually you will have a few pairs that breed top class youngsters. You get nowhere with a group of average birds. The Cattrysse brothers were patient and they were convinced that they had a good collection of pigeons in their loft. If that is the case you can be confident that your family will sooner or later breed great youngsters. It takes experience, patience and drive to get where you want to be. The brothers used this approach in their businesses and they used the same approach as fanciers.

In the winter of 1946 Jef Hermans from Luythagen sold his so called war pigeons, which achieved a record price. He only kept the young birds for himself. There have been several famous pigeon fanciers who auctioned their entire collection of old birds. Dr. Bricoux did it in the winter of 1930, Duray in the winter of 1933. In the years prior to this auction these powerful Walloon fanciers were at the height of their success. In the years after the auction things went a bit wrong. It made Bricoux nervous: he saw his pigeons excel in other lofts, while his own team could not win any prizes in the nationals. He decided to purchase new pigeons, which he hadn’t done for a long time. He purchased pigeons from Franz Hentges from Luxemburg-Bonnevoie (blue coloured Collins pigeons from Hoignee) but they did not turn the tide (although there were other factors involved as well).

Jef Hermans faced the same difficulties, even though he more or less managed to maintain his level of performance. He kept his cool. Still the champion from Antwerp was not very successful in 1946, ’47 and ’48 compared to the years before the war. In 1949 there was a slight improvement. He was on his way to visit a few friends in Lier, who were waiting for their pigeons to arrive from Cormeilles. Five of his pigeons finished in the first ten. “Thanks, Mr. Hermans”, said his colleagues from Lier. In 1950 he managed to win a few decent prizes again, especially in the union. He could no longer compete with the pigeons of Huyskens-Van Riel and the Marissen brothers but at least he could win prizes again. Hermans had always been a better breeder than player.

And how about the Cattrysse brothers? They would never make the mistake of selling their old birds. These old pigeons are not for sale. They would not basket them for Barcelona either. Sometimes they could race Bilbao or Santander but that’s it.

The two brothers had a collection of great birds and they still had 70 of them left after the war. As a result they could quickly gain results after the war was over. That was already obvious in ’46, despite the fact that the Cattrijsse pigeons need quite some time to develop.