About 'Le Chat Noir'
By: Bill Henderson, West Yorkshire, England.
For many years, the owner of this Guest House, Alain, has been interested in the history of Ypres, particularly the history of the City and its surrounding area during the Great War, 1914 -1918.
His interest was stimulated, amongst other things, by the fact that his great grandfather was a soldier at the front for over four years and was wounded by shrapnel towards the end of the war. He was a native of Ypres and his family, were evacuated from Ypres which was under constant shell attack . They were of course, small children at the time and were forced with their mother, into exile, escaping to Rouen, in France for the duration of the War.
Although it was under constant bombardment and attack from the beginning of the war in 1914, until the end in 1918, Ypres never fell into German hands.
After the end of the war, in 1920, the family were reunited and returned home their beloved Ypres from Rouen . By this time, the whole of Ypres had been totally obliterated by four years of constant enemy shelling. Not a single building was left standing, so the returning refugees lived in a ' barracks ' which had been specially built to accommodate those returning home, using money from the 'King Albert Fund'.
Alain's grandparents were amongst the first people to return home to Ypres and the first to move into the “barracks” . ( See the attached picture taken in 1919)
Bit by bit, over the next two decades, the City of Ypres once again emerged from the ashes and rubble left by the war, to become the beautiful City you see today, restored in every detail to the way it had been before the first shell fell upon it in 1914.
During the Second World War, Ypres was again the focus of the German Invaders, but this time unfortunately , it was part of occupied Europe and remained in German hands until after the September 1944.
Most of the owners family remained in Ypres during the occupation.
The story of the owners family is probably the story of many of the other families of Ypres , but because of his interest in the history of his city and his willingness to share his knowledge , he has made many contacts with people from other countries .
Many people from all parts of the British Isles and other places, have come to know Alain, not simply as a historian and a guide, but as a very dear friend and to many of us, a member of our extended family.
Alain often circulates a newsletter or pictures via e mail and the internet, letting everyone know about interesting events happening in Ypres.. (See pictures of the Funeral of Private Thomson – October 2004)
He has also done research on soldiers of the Great War on behalf of families and made arrangements for special rememberance ceremonies ( see pictures of November 1999 – Arry – Somme – able seaman James Raine and also at the Menin Gate)
The knowledge of the City and the contacts he has made, has inspired Alain to open this Guest House.
The purpose is to offer a self-catering and comfortable holiday house within the historical centre of Ypres, in easy walking distance of the main City Square , the Menin gate and the ' In Flander Fields ' Museum.
The house is suitable for couples, families or groups of friends or colleagues, where you can stay for a reasonable price and where your host tries to give you all the information you need to make your visit interesting and memorable.
In return, all that he asks, is that you take care of his house as if it were your own.
Name of the House :
The House is a former antique shop called 'Le Chat Noir' , or in English, The Black Cat. The same name has been kept, because the black cat is the symbol of the city of Ypres.
Every three years the City holds ' The Cat Festival' , where floats decorated with cat themes and dancers dressed as cats, parade through the city. The Festival culminates in toy cats being thrown from the highest tower of the Cloth Hall.
( The Festival dates back to Medieval times, but in those time the cats thrown from the the tower were real !!)
The next Cats Festival is to be held on the second weekend in May, 2012 .
Pictures : www.purr-n-fur.org.uk/fabled/ypres/ypres.html