The AGM Weekend 2022, Belgium

Many thanks to Judith Galbraith for her report on the weekend and Patrick Cokelaere for the photos.

Well the long awaited Belgium AGM and the joint 25th, 26th  27th anniversary celebration for our Belgium club had high expectations to meet and boy, it didn’t disappoint. The BHDSBA had been planning and organising for 3 years and did an outstanding job. The meeting was held at Ypres or  more correctly, as it is in Flemish speaking Belgium, Leper.

On Friday evening we had a welcome reception prior to the actual AGM meeting with, of course, our first taste of Belgium beer. Issues with her plane meant that Gayle wasn’t able to be there but Janet ably stepped up to help. The AGM itself will be minuted separately and passed without controversy. A minutes silence was held in memory for David Smith of the Kelsey flock who was a good friend to many and made such a significant contribution to the breed.

At 8 pm we congregated at the Menin gate for the last post ceremony. The Menin Gate was a waypoint for the millions of soldiers who fought in this tiny area of Belgium throughout WW1. It is a very poignant symbol of the scale of the loss of the first world war, carved with the names of more than 54,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers whose bodies were never found. ‘ Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient, but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death’. Despite its vast size it wasn’t big enough to record all the names necessary with another 35.000 soldiers recorded at Tyne Cot cemetery which we visited the following day .The last post has been played in remembrance every day since 1928 and wreaths are laid by visiting groups. Rik Tanghe and Adrian Rundle together laid a beautiful wreath on behalf of our associations.

The evening was rounded off with a traditional Belgium meal in the beautiful ‘Yperley’ rooms which rang with the usual laughter and camaraderie of an HDSBA AGM

The following morning, adorned with our blue caps and pink glasses courtesy of the welcome pack, we set off to the Soenen family home for a flock visit and of course, beer tasting. Alongside Klaus and FiIlomeen Soenen’s sheep from the Limetree flock there were also sheep from Patrick Cokelaere’s North flock 48W, Rik Tanghe’s St-Martin’s flock 31U, Mathias Vandenbussche’s Greenlander Flock, Phillip Vereecke’s Honing flock B13. That allowed us the much appreciated opportunity to view more flocks in a single visit.

The Foxtown brewery provided the beer with light and dark versions ranging from 8-14% alcohol! For some reason (?!) it was only later in the morning that the close resemblance of a certain well known Irish breeder to Elton John became apparent – If you haven’t seen that FB post- you’ve missed out!

Fortunately, after all that beer, a substantial lunch was served out of a Belgium frites van (they invented them you know!) followed by hand made mattetaart baked by one of the Belgium club members.

The afternoon then took on a more somber mood as we moved onto the cemetery at Tyne Cot. It’s hard to fully comprehend the scale of grief and loss that this cemetery represents with 12,000 graves and 35,000 names carved on plaques on the walls encircling the gravestones. It seemed like the majority of those gravestones are marked only as a soldier from a particular regiment ‘known unto god’.  No one was left unmoved and many were moved to tears. We were guided by Johanes and Paul who read poetry, told stories and sang songs which fleshed out the details of the lives represented here. Songs like’ Willie Macbride’ and ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ took on an extra special significance. Finally we ended by singing with them the John Lennon song ‘Imagine’ which seemed particularly poignant at that place and in the present time.

It seems strange to then move on to talk about the fantastic Gala dinner and awards ceremony but that was the way of the weekend; laughter and tears combined. We again converged on the Yperley for a wonderful dinner including of course, the best quality Belgium Beef. Our guest speaker was Simon Louagie, manager at Talbot House – Poperinge.  He told us stories of the Talbot House Club opened by army chaplains Neville Talbot and Philip “Tubby” Clayton which became a vital place of refuge and relaxation for the troops during the war. It was a place where rank had no significance and everyone was welcome. Generals had to wait their turn at the favoured billiard table alongside privates and sergeants. There was a large library for soldiers and services took place in the attic even after additional ventilation had been provided by some enemy artillery!

The flock competition results for both Belgium and UK associations were then announced – again full details have been provided separately, the Champion flock in the UK went to the Jones’ Morley flock and in Belgium to Klaus’ Limetree flock. Our judge, Jim Fletcher was keen to encourage breeders to eliminate what he referred to as the scourge of pee-staining and in addition suggested that members consider mineral deficiency as a possible contributor to issues they may see in their flock.

Geert (he has offered a prize for any UK breeder who pronounces his name correctly!) Dehaese then in his own highly amusing and inimitable style acted as auctioneer for beer, chocolate, hand-made signs and books to raise money for the charity’ Bubbles ID’. This charity was introduced by Filomeen Soenen who is an internationally recognised specialist in Primary Immune Deficiency, a disease that means that patients have no effective immune system and have to live with their families in ‘bubbles’. The charity supports families, provides additional nurses and supports research into this disease developing new and more effective treatments.

Our final morning was a visit to the award winning Weybrouck flock. The Weybrouck family are renowned Beltex and Blue Texel Sheep breeders with three generations involved. They aim to breed functional sheep with great muscle and their breed reserve champion ram was a prime example of that, with an amazing back end. They also have a horticultural business with vast greenhouses full of salad crops which was a fascinating change for us as livestock producers. Lunch was a lovely pumpkin soup and of course Belgium chocolate.

This year’s AGM was definitely one to remember and it was great to see so many breeders make the trip across the water to share in it, some even cycled there!  It was also heartening to see a big contingent of young breeders at the AGM enjoying their time with the society – the future looks bright. We cannot thank our Belgium club enough – they couldn’t have done a better job, it was a most enjoyable experience visiting such a thought provoking area inhabited by such friendly and welcoming people.


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