Torhout is nowadays a municipality of 22,000 inhabitants. It has the privilege to wear the title of ‘town’ and being situated 20 km from Bruges and 25 from the seaside. Since the Middle Ages an annual Market of Horses has been the place to be for horse lovers and is being organised at the end of June. In the interbellum and after the Second War a lot of horses were transported to Poland and the Baltic States. The Lithuanian expression: ‘as calm as a Belgian’ refers to the famous working horses. On the several roundabouts you will find sculptures of horses. One of the departments of our school community has a horse riding and training centre.
Torhout has a medieval reputation due to the water castle ‘Wijnendaele’, situated on a geographical plateau. In 1482 Mary, Duchess of Burgundy, died during a horse riding in the forest. She was the wife of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. After her death a lot of conflicts started between the local rulers and the Emperors. In 1702 Wijnendaele area was the scene of a battle between the French- Spanish Army (Louis XIV) and the Great Alliance (British and Dutch troups) During the Austrian occupation in the 18th century it became a military area for the Emperor guards. The roads from Bruges to Torhout were called the Theresian roads. In the 19th century it was overwhelmed by the industrial development.
During the Great War (1914-1918) Torhout – including our school – was occupied by the Germans. The chapel became a horse stable. The classrooms were filled with beds. After the war the school activities started up again. But in 1940 King Leopold III spent some days in the Water castle. At the same time a lot of refugees from the east of Belgium reached Torhout. During the Nazi invasion several civilians were killed around May 25. They were buried nearby our college. A monument for the victims of both wars is in front of one of our dormitories.
Torhout is situated in the heart of the Province of West-Flanders and between Roeselare (Minor Seminary) and Bruges (Major Seminary). The railway road was even one the fences of the our teacher training school!
Due to excellent transport facilities (train, busses and the exit of high ways) it is still an educational magnet. Around 8,000 pupils and students stay from pre-school till university college in Torhout during 5 days a week. This school population is important for the local economy.
Little detail. Our Minister of Education, Mrs Hilde Crevits, is nominated as the Mayor of Torhout. Her parents were both teachers in our schools. Her father was the headmaster of our laboratory school during several years.
Back to history. In 1837 the first catholic teacher training college was established by the bishop of Bruges. “De Normaalschool” was based on the concepts of the ‘Kweekschool” (Seminary) by the Dutch Ruler Willem I and inspiration was found in France (Ecole Normale) and Germany (Bildung).
The school, especially the rectors and some of their former students played an important role in the promotion of the Dutch language. The first ‘Nederdietse spraakkunst’ was edited in Torhout (1810). In the Great War a lot of students became soldiers in the Belgian army and some of them were killed in actions. The officers were French-speaking. A lot of Flemish soldiers couldn’t communicate with their superiors. Others died after the war due to the gas attacks in 1917.
During the ‘Great War’ the school was occupied by the German troupes and became a lazaret (hospital). The frontline was only 25 km away. The school was moved to Bruges. The influence of the Flemish emancipation was huge. The living conditions during the Second World War (1940-1945) were terrible. The school was closed at the beginning of the war (May 1940) but reopened in September 1940. Students could graduate with a legal diplome, but stayed during their studies in very bad conditions. One testimony of teacher Leon Vandenberghe (told us about ‘frozen potatoes’ and the dormitory was called ‘Siberia’. Some of the students left school to join the Flemish Nationalist Movement and became soldiers on the ‘East Front’. Others decided to become members of the resistance or the ‘White Brigade’.
In our school we commemorated The Christmas Truce (25.12.1914) and collaborated with several schools to evoke this event of peace and mutual understanding. Our trainees worked out scripts and performances about the Great War and posted them on YouTube. The Christmas Truce was subject of a celebration at the end of 2014 all over the country. It was for us the start of arranging activities in relation to our project.
The ‘Torhoutse Normaalschool’ is nowadays one the 3 teacher training colleges of VIVES University College. It is a fusion between two Catholic Institutes of Higher Education in West-Flanders (KHBO & KATHO). More than 13,000 students are following courses on several campuses. Peace education in Primary Education and Remembrance Education for trainees in secondary schools are unique courses in the Flemish landscape. A lot of expertise and a strong network with museums, NGOs and individuals are the outcomes of this course that has been organised since 2010.