Tournier of Lommel…The story of a world class bloodline.                                                                                              

Lommel, Belgium. On 10th November 1901 the fourth of six children was born in the respectable family of Joseph Tournier. He was given the name Jacques.

Jacques was the son of a distinguished merchant and at first there was no indication that he would become one of the most famous pigeon fanciers ever.

When Jacques was 10 years old his father decided that his study was more important and that put a delay on his fancier’s days. He still played football on Sundays and was rather good at it. But the pigeon bug stayed with him and some years later, in 1914, neighbour Jansen had a few couples ‘to spare’, and Jacques took up the pigeon sport again, and this time with more success!

The bright young Jacques realized early on that in the pigeon sport you had to sow first in order to reap later. He saved his pocket money for a train journey, in short trousers, to Antwerp. At home he told his family that he was going to the Zoo, but in fact he was going somewhere else entirely. His first visit to the Coffeehouse in Antwerp turned out to be quite an adventure, and he didn’t come away empty handed. For 50 Belgian francs the young Tournier became the owner of a latebred young hen.

The First World War was the second time Jacques had to delay the pigeon sport and his studies were again given priority. After the war had ended and he had finished school, Jacques went to work in the company of his father. Then he took up his two hobbies again: football and especially the pigeon sport.

The pre war pigeons

Through business relations Jacques came into contact with the Waalse champion Gurnay from Verviers, Belgium. Gurnay was the successor of Alexandre Hansenne, the ‘Waalse Wegge’ whose victories astonished the whole world. The Hansenne breed was partly based on the Vekemans pigeons (Ulens origin). Vekemans – the director of the Antwerp Zoo – also supplied another fancier, the legendary Karel Wegge the miller from  the Lierse Hoogveld.

The Hansenne pigeons were mostly dark, with velvet feathers, strong bodies and eyes as seldom seen elsewhere. The dark champions from Fabry, by way of the ‘Bronzé’, went back to the Hansenne origin, as did the pigeons from van Wanroy.

For the ‘roots’ of the Tournier stock we have to go back to the early twenties. To the Waalse champion Renier Gurnay from Verviers, successor of the famous Alexandre Hansenne. The black in the Tournier stock can, by way of the legendary Colpar-line, be largely traced back to this Hansenne breed, where also the Fabry’s and van Wanroy’s partly find their origin. In the above photographs bottom right Mr and Mrs Gurnay, next to some typical examples of the dark Gurnay’s, upper left the nice loft (where now ex-Perpignan-winner Mornard keeps his pigeons) and in the centre the grand villa, earned from pigeon racing …

Not only did Tournier get his pigeons from the outstanding grandmaster Gurnay, but when he had to go into the army it was due to Gurnay that Tournier was stationed with the ‘transmitting troops’, the section to which the army pigeons belonged. After his training he was transferred to the pigeon base in Wilrijk and later to the new military lofts in Vilvoorde. The last four months of his service he was even put in charge of three ‘vehicles’ with pigeons in Germany. After the war the army service proved to have given him, besides a lot of experience, friendships that came in very useful.

Jacques came into contact with the father of Albert Heyvaert, who was Regional secretary in Opwijk and the best fancier in the entire district. From him he acquired pigeons from the famous D’Hooghe from Grembergen and from De Ridder from Dendermonde. D’Hooghe had made history by once entering four pigeons in a national race from Bordeaux and winning the four first prizes with a lead of a whole night on the best of the Belgium fanciers. Two super hens from this breed, ”t Blauwke’ and ”t Vaaltje’, became real champions. In her 53rd race ”t Blauwke’ didn’t win a prize for the very first time, and ”t Vaaltje’ excelled by winning among others 1st Orleans with 11 minutes ahead in a very warm race and an easterly wind, 1st Bordeaux, 4th Interprovincial Dax, and so on.

It goes without saying that these two super hens were both integrated into the breed. The famous ‘Kleine’ was a grandson of ”t Vaaltje’. In 1937 he finished 26th Bordeaux Holland-Belgium and won the major prize by being the only pigeon to return on the day of release in a race from 800 km.

Also in the 1920s Tournier bought the famous ‘Blauwe’ also called ‘de Balk’  from Gust Van Hout from Geel. The ‘Blauwe’ came from the renowned bloodline of De Herdt from Kontich.

Another important acquisition, and with this we bring the 1920s to a close, was the ‘Blauwe Witkop’ from Pastoor Pycke. This breed was renowned for its strong long-distance qualities. Out of a pairing of the ‘Witkop Pycke’ with a crossed ‘Vosse Flamand x Gurnay’ originated the unforgettable  Red cocks the ‘Geplakte Vos’, the ‘Vos I’ and the ‘Vos II’.

Back now to Gurnay, because where Jacques only had partial success with the first Gurnay’s, that all changed when he got a son of the wondrous ‘Colpar’, the pigeon that raced a fortune for the Waalse grandmaster. Out of this son came a hen, that among others won the 15th National Barcelona against more than 3,000 pigeons for the then commissioner of police in Lommel. Regretfully this hen was one of the thousands of Belgian pigeons that were lost in the catastrophic race from Algiers.

Out of the ‘Jonge Colpar’ came the ‘Schele’, that won numerous top prizes, among which the 1st Interprovincial Tours with 12 minutes ahead. More fantastic pigeons were added to the Tournier breed. First there were the four champion pigeons with Stichelbaut blood from a deceased West-Flemish champion. Then descendants of the ‘Zwarte Dupont’, a formidable flyer, bred in 1934 out of a cock from the Waal Dupont and a hen from brewer Raeymakers from Dessel. The ‘Zwarte Dupont’ himself had come to the Tournier family during the war. Also through Gurnay, Jacques came into contact with Evrard Havenith from Hoboken from which famous loft Tournier brought pigeons into his own stock as well.

Jacques bought several more champions from all over, often for a lot of money. Like ‘de Kapellen’, a chequered cock with more than 20 first prizes, and a golden breeding hen of the Goossens line from Aarschot.

One point was always uppermost in his mind: pedigrees were only interesting when they included several first prize winners. The ability to fly alone and ahead is hereditary.

The last race before Hitler’s armies would start a very dark period was 5th May 1940. With two youngsters from the ‘Colpar’, the wonder pigeon from Gurnay, the first two prizes were won. Five days later the German invasion started.

The period after 1944

Soon after the liberation on 11th September 1944, Tournier went back into the pigeon sport. Fortunately the best pigeons had been spared during the war. During 1945 the most important things were breeding and helping the Dutch fanciers, who had lost most of their pigeons in the war. Racing started in earnest again from 1946 onwards. The best two pigeons at that time were the ‘Oude Witpen van 39’ and a chequered cock of 1942.

The 1947 season was one never to be forgotten. The unleashed Tournier pigeons raced over the Vlaamse (and Waalse!) country side and shattered everything and everyone. For the great Chateauroux race of 22nd June eight pigeons were basketed. The results were incredible with 1-2-3 provincial Antwerp and 1-2-3 Sector Oostkant Limburg, Luxemburg, Namen.

Above an article from ‘De Duif’ of 18 June 1947 about Schoeters and Maes, the two renowned champions from Herenthout. Two of the most famous pigeon breeds ever – Janssen from Arendonk and Tournier from Lommel – are closely related to those champions.

The eminent tandem Huyskens-Van Riel won the 4th provincial Antwerp that day. After several more victories, like Tours and Cognac, races in which 1000 – 1000 was pooled three times and … won three times, the papers wrote: ‘Tournier has the best loft in the whole of Belgium.’

Problems with bad drinking water was the cause of a lesser season in 1948, but from 1949 on Tournier started doing well again. In the mean time a lot happened. Many fanciers in Belgium and Holland and from far away, (more about that later) came to Lommel to buy pigeons, drawn there because of the fantastic successes. However, Tournier himself also didn’t intend to stop looking for better stock.

In the Schoolstraat in Arendonk  indeed, from Driekske Janssen! – he bought a son of the ‘Witoger van ’32’ and … a full sister of the famous ‘Wondervoske’ (later Jacques also acquired several young Janssen pigeons but, as he told me once personally, with these he didn’t have that much luck).

From the old brewer Jos Hermans from Luythaegen, Jacques acquired a few super pigeons that were closely related to the famous ‘Boot’ and that still had an amount of Bricoux blood in them.

Another important acquisition was the ‘Blauwe Tist’. An old friend, Peer Werelds from Mol-Rouw, bought this pigeon for him (for a small fortune) at the total sale of speed champion, Tist Geuens from Mol. His pigeons were mostly the breed of Tournier-Pastoor Pijcke, by way of Louis ‘Wieter’ Pennemans, chairman in Lommel. This ‘Blauwe Tist’  was in a large measure decended from Tournier pigeons and we can still find at present in the Tournier stock, by way of for instance the ‘Valk’, the ’01 Pot’ and the ‘Zolder’.

René Maes from Herentout

It is common knowledge that part of the Janssen pigeons originate from the brewer Schoeters from Herenthout. And also that the ‘schalie’ colour arises from there. “Well”, writes Schaerlaeckens in his book ‘Gebr. Janssen, Arendonk.. The most famous Pigeon Fanciers of all time’, “Schoeters actually had only one man as a rival, and that was Maes.” On the other hand, Schoeters also exchanged pigeons with Maes. Schaerlaeckens continues:

“From Tournier it is known that he bought pigeons from Maes and that these pigeons would make his name world famous. That Tournier only openly admitted to that fact after the death of René Maes will have its reasons.” And he writes further: “Fanciers like van den Hoek, Postma, Pepermans and even Braakhuis have Tournier to thank for a large part of their success. Or even for the largest part.”

If the latter is true, then the first is completely unfounded. It seems even funny when you know that Jacques Tournier and René Maes were best friends. Even in the magazine ‘De Duif’ of 18th December 1947 we can read that René Maes did exceptionally well with pigeons from his friend Tournier! With the previous we don’t intend to claim that the ‘Maes pigeons’ (which, together with the Janssens pigeons also formed the basis of the former champion loft de Kepper) haven’t played a substantial part in the forming of the Tournier breed.

As an interlude: Piet de Weerd also mentioned in his work ‘Het Ras Janssen van Arendonk’ that the breed of René Maes was presumed to be related to the Schoeters pigeons. However, it is known that througout his whole life Piet has avoided contact with Tournier. Even in the description of the ‘Gouden Koppel’ from Braakhuis, Piet leaves out the certainly not unimportant part that Tournier played.

Apart from that, from American friends I once heard that in the United States, Piet de Weerd classed Tournier pigeons under Janssen pigeons …

The friendship between the two champions Maes and Tournier was so close that they exchanged quite a few pigeons. A few very distinguished Maes pigeons that came to Lommel were the ‘Kleine Blauwe Maes’, the ‘Blauwke van Tongerlo’ (that René Maes acquired from a man called Hendrikx from Tongerlo, after Hendrikx had crashed with his motorbike) and the ‘Grote Blauwe Maes’. The ‘Grote Blauwe Maes’ originated from a daughter of the famous ‘Prinses’ from Bruynseels from Heist o/d Berg x the ‘Blauwe Vetters’. The ‘Prinses’ won more than 10 first prizes and the ‘Blauwe Vetters’ won more than 20. Significant too was that the much to young deceased champion René Maes decreed on his death-bed that his friend Tournier should have the pick of his best pigeons.

Time and again Tournier was proved right with his system to built on pigeons with the ability to win (several) first prizes. Differences in build, plumage and so on didn’t interest him. The only thing that counted was the ability to fly first prizes!

To be continued…