History Files
 

ENG FRA GER NDL

 

 

Kemmelberg

The Legend of Maugis' Small Horse

by W Willems, J L Putman, & M Soenen

On the Bergstraat in Kemmel, diagonally opposite the post office building, there is a villa with lettering on its frontage which says 'Malegijs Peerdeke' ('Maugis' small horse').

In the garden next to the house is a bronze statue of the so-called 'Malegijs Peerdeke' with three girls on his back in a depiction of a folk tale which is set in the sixteenth century, by Johann Wilhelm Wolf (1843).

Bronze statue of 'Malegijs Peerdeke', Kemmel
Photo © W Willems

Bronze statue of 'Malegijs Peerdeke', Kemmel.

One day in 1521, three neighbouring girls were walking through the town of Ypres. Suddenly, in the twilight, they saw a wonderful and beautifully decorated small white horse, rearing up and apparently without a guide.

While the girls were impressed by the unusual beauty of the horse, a knight came along, and it was he who seemed to be the lost animal's guide.

He turned to the delighted girls and said: 'The horse comes from Japan and I have only arrived in Ypres today. If you want to take him for a little ride, just tell me where you live or where you want to go and the horse will be happy to take you there'.

The girls hesitated for a moment, but decided to take the horse for a ride and chose to go home with him.

The proud animal moved forwards, gently at first, but gradually speeding up and was soon flying along the road like an arrow. They had already passed through the city gate when the girls realised that they had been misled. Evening was falling when, suddenly the horse stopped in front of a huge, beautiful castle.

The girls could hear what seemed to be thousands of musical instruments playing while the castle was occupied by a multitude of revellers.

The castle gates swung open and the horse rode in with the three girls on his back. Moments later a side door opened and numerous expensively-dressed court ladies appeared. Within the room behind them a well-laid table became visible. The girls dismounted and entered the room.

At the head of the table sat a tall gentleman with bright, shining eyes. He was dressed in a long, embroidered damask robe which covered his entire body, with a kind of Turkish hat on his head which had a small mirror at the front and which was decorated on both sides with diamonds and other precious stones.

This lord - seemingly kind - was able to persuade the three girls to join him for a bite to eat. After dinner, the three girls told the story of their adventures and asked that the horse's companion take them back home.

But the lord stood up and said: 'Now that Maugis' small horse has given us the good fortune to receive those noble ladies of Ypres in this castle, we must do all we can to make this evening a pleasant and cheerful one. Let us play pledge'.

The girls refused to join in, simply wanting to go home, but the eyes of the lord took on a hellish expression and his face fell into a cruel and gloomy demeanour, so that the girls again sat down in the hope that this grim sight would go away.

This was how they started to play pledge. But the girls, who had no experience at all at the game, always made the wrong choices and had to pawn more and more of their belongings so that, in the end, they had to hand over everything they had with them. They lost all their jewellery and even their clothes. The girls waited, terrified, for the game to end.

Then the lord said: 'Before we proceed to the distribution of the pledges, let us drink to the health of Maugis' horse'.

When the girls took their first sip of the offered liquid, they suddenly woke up as if from a dream, to find themselves under the bare night sky. The magic had gone.

The three girls were sitting half-naked in an unknown place in a deep pit, from which they eventually clambered out, seeing before them a hut.

They found a farmer and his wife there, telling them what had happened and asking where they were. 'On the Kemmelberg, more than two hours from Ypres' was the answer. But the farmer and his wife mistook the girls for sorceresses and refused to give them clothes or help.

The girls had to flee from the increasingly suspicious locals, running down the mountain. After wandering a long time over unknown roads, the poorly-dressed girls finally arrived at an inn, but now they did not dare tell the innkeeper how they got into this miserable situation. So they made him believe that they had been robbed by brigands.

The girls were allowed entrance and were given clothes by the landlady. The innkeeper was then preparing to take the girls home in his cart which was to be pulled by a pair of horses.

They were already an hour along the road from the inn when the innkeeper began to suspect that he had deviated from the correct path, although he knew the road from Kemmel to Ypres very well. The three girls began to feel frightened as they thought of Maugis' horse, the creature which deceived them in the same way.

'It's funny, I can't control my horses', said the innkeeper. The cart moved forwards faster and faster, being pulled with some force over dykes, through woods, and over fields and streams. A shadow was now permanently flying in front of the horses. The girls whispered to each other: 'The shadow of Maugis'.

At last they came to a wide lane upon which the cart ground to a halt. The horses were heaving for breath, covered in foam. The shadow had disappeared and the sun was rising over the horizon.

'The witch of Kemmelberg must have misled us', said the innkeeper, pale as death. 'But her empire is at an end, for yonder in the east day dawns'.

Although the innkeeper would normally be able to find his way blindfolded from Kemmel to Ypres, he had to ask a passing farmer where they were. The farmer smiled and stated that they were more than ten hours from Ypres and that they were on the road from Steenvoorde to Kassel.

'How could we be so stupid as to mount this Maugis' horse? Who knows where we could have ended up, had the spectre of Maugis' horse not been surprised by daylight,' the girls said. With great difficulty they finally reached the town of Ypres that day.

To immortalise this event, the pit in which they landed on the Kemmelberg was called the 'Kinderput'.

Plaque 'Here is the Kinderput'
Photo © W Willems

Plaque: 'Here is the Kinderput'.

Seen from the lane, this pit is located immediately to the left of a small hill on which a concrete base was built, upon which the geodesic point was installed in 1951 by the National Geographic Institute (NGI) in Brussels, which determined the height of the Kemmelberg to be 154m.

Geodesic point on the Kemmelberg, 1951
Photo © W Willems

Geodesic point on the Kemmelberg (154m), October 1951.

The geodesic point is located opposite the entrance to Hostellerie Kemmelberg and two hundred metres from the Belvédère lookout tower.

The 'Kinderput'
Photo © W Willems

The 'Kinderput' in the foreground, behind it the plaque, and at the very back the small hill with the geodesic point.

Right along the road, at the location at which the Hostellerie was built in 1954 - set back from the road itself - there stood the 'Belle Vue' restaurant before the First World War, directly opposite a small lookout hill which was part of a small British resistance centre during the war.

Was this hill raised using soil from the 'Kinderput'?

Restaurant Belle Vue and small lookout hill
Photo © Geneanet - Licence CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Restaurant Belle Vue and small lookout hill.

 

 

Text copyright © Archeo Kemmelberg. An original feature for the History Files: Kemmelberg.