|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.
|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
|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.
|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,
"The WRESTLING HERITAGE of EUROPE & the AMERICAS"
A Pictorial Encyclopaedia of a Neglected Cultural Treasure’
By William Baxter and David P Webster