Belgium & Greco-Roman Wrestling

Part 3

Continued from Belgium Traditional Wrestling & Greco-Roman Wrestling -PART 2
Perhaps the most interesting World Championship of all time commenced in the Casino de Paris in November 1901 with 130 competitors. It finished on December 27th when the first European Champion and soon to be the most famous athlete in the world, George Hackenschmidt (1878/1968) of Estonia pinned Constant le Boucher in the final after a long and gruelling bout. Hackenschmidt gained two gold medals and 3,000 francs, Le Boucher who had already won the ‘Poids legers’ category gained a gold and a silver medal and 1,750 francs Omer de Bouillon of Belgium won the third prize of 750 francs. In addition all the wrestlers at these major tournaments were paid a ‘salary’ or living expenses; naturally the better wrestlers were paid more; just prior to his arrival in Paris Hackenschmidt had been paid 2,500 francs per month at the Moscow tournament.

Omer de Bouillon

George Hackenschmidt of Estonia, the first European Champion and 1901 World Champion

Lavaux was not the only famous Belgian wrestler in this period; there were others as famous and successful. Omer Garritte was born in La Louvière on 18th November 1874 and was a blacksmith to trade, in 1898 he and his friends founded L’Athletic Club du Centre and wrestling training took place on grass behind the ancient Salle du Bouillon. When Omer Garritte turned professional he adopted the name of De Bouillon to honour the place where he had perfected his skills. He normally placed very high in the prize list of major tournaments; in 1901 he placed third in the World Championship as noted above and in London in 1902 he placed second to Jacobus Koch, “Le Grand Car” of Germany and placed fourth in the 1903 championship in Paris.
In 1907 he and his wife travelled to South America with a troupe of wrestlers and in Buenos Aires he defeated Paul Pons in the final of the World Championship tournament. He retired in 1914 but continued to train young wrestlers and with his wife opened a swimming pool and dance studio, which he called ‘Le Salon Du Bouillon’ (despite his bulk Garritte was a very fine dancer). Omer Garritte/De Bouillon died as a result of a tragic accident on October 3rd 1936 at the age of 62. He was in full and robust health and was working in the courtyard of his house when he decided to sharpen a pair of secateurs on an electric grinding machine. A fragment broke off the stone and struck him on the head, he walked to a Doctor’s surgery and said, “Doctor, I have a piece of mill stone in my head.” He was immediately transferred to hospital but died several hours later.

Jacobus Koch



The next part of my story begins in 17th century Germany, was recorded in an article in the “BERGWINKEL BOTE heimatkalender 1993 (Bergwinkel Bote heimatkalendar1993) and is a microcosm of modern European history which I will summarise very briefly.
The origins of the family of Herd-Schlingoff can be traced to Steinau, where the head of the family was a ‘Sattlermeister’. In 1695 the family moved to Bruckenau and during the Napoleonic war Johann Herd was garrisoned in Hanau where he met his wife Christina. In 1825, Johann Nicolaus Herd and his wife Christina Schlingloff had their son Christian Freidrich Georg Balthasar Herd baptised in the Hanauer Marienkirche with full military honours. The first half of the 19th century was very difficult and after the German Revolution many families from Steinau tried to find a solution to their economic difficulties by emigrating to America, Australia or South West Africa. Others took advantage of the Industrial Revolution and moved to developing European industrial areas, Freidrich Herd was one of the latter and came to Lüttich/Liege on February 27th 1849.
German workers were greatly sought after for the new industries and soon there were 5,000 Germans in Liege, the Kingdom had had a German King since 1839, Leopold 1 von Sachsen-Coburg-Saalfeld and the new arrivals seem to have been warmly received. Freidrich Herd found a job in a coalmine and met and married Bertha Schleicher who came from Stolberg in Prussia. One of their sons, Frédèric Guillaume Herd (1851/1911) also married a Prussian girl Hélène-Madeleine Treffer. Mina was the daughter of an Unteroffizier in the 39th Infanterie-Linienregiment which guarded the Belgian/German border who when his military career was over in 1853 had chosen to live modestly in Belgium.

Constant le Marin

Henri Herd began formal wrestling training in a small gym in la Rue Pierreuse in 1901 and had an enormous appetite for work. Two years later he reached the final of the annual Amateur Championship of Liége only to be beaten by his coach, Jules Depireux. The following year he competed among hundreds of other contestants in a tournament, which lasted from 24th February till March 3rd and won the heavyweight category. His first professional competition was at the Exposition Universelle de Liége in 1905 where adopted his pseudonym of Constant le Marin; the reason seems to have been that he would be a sporting ambassador for Wallon on land and sea but he used the name Constant in honour of his hero Constant le Boucher.
Constant le Marin’s fame and success mounted and he was in great demand at tournaments all over Europe and the Americas. He won the 1907 World Championship in Paris and in Buenos Aires in 1910 he won the World Championship and gold belt before 35,000 spectators. When the German invasion began in August 1914 he was in Paris but immediately returned home and volunteered for the army. He was quickly promoted to sergeant and when the Belgian machinegun corps was founded he transferred to it and saw service between 1915 and 1917 in Russia. Henri Herd was frequently cited in the ‘Orders of the Day’ and was decorated by King Leopold. At the Battle of Svitselniki in Galicia on September 16th 1916 he was in charge of an armoured car, which was destroyed by Austrian/German fire. The Czar immediately donated a newly developed Russian vehicle, which was later destroyed and Herd was hit in the thigh by two bullets, and another in his arm. His driver Godefroid was killed and the other two crew members were seriously injured in this incident in Koniouki in July 1917 but Henri Herd was saved by his sixteen year old nephew Fernand Houbiers who had followed his famous uncle into the army. Herd/Le Marin was awarded Russia’s highest military award the Cross of St. George four times by Czar Nicholas II.
After the war it took some time for Henri Herd to recover from his wounds but according to his nephew he used ‘natural’ training methods to recover from his injuries and resume his professional career. In 1921 he won the World Championship in Paris and in 1924 he once again won the World Championship in Buenos Aires. When the Second World War began he was too old for the army and when the Germans approached he headed for Bordeaux to give assistance to Belgians in exile, when this proved impractical he abandoned his huge Buick on the pier and boarded the last ship for South America and only returned in 1946. During the war collaborators announced on the radio the death of this famous man in Chile complete with a minute’s silence in his honour.
Henri Herd died in 1965 and on Sunday 14th August 1988 a commerative plaque was unveiled in his honour in rue Puits-en-Sock in Liége by the Bourgmestre at a ceremony, which was attended by his nephew M. Lambert Grailet. The city also renamed the entrance to the street where he was born as rue Henri Herd and M. Lambert Grailet wrote movingly in 1993 of his cousin Lisa in Steinau. As I stated at the beginning of this brief article, the history of the Herd family of Liége is a microcosm of modern European history.
Extracts from the manuscript of,
A Pictorial Encyclopaedia of a Neglected Cultural Treasure’

By William Baxter and David P Webster









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