In this interview Leon Hermans († 2017), one of the pionieers of Hébertisme, shares his personal story, provides some insights on Méthode Naturelle history after the Second World War and boosts with the Hébertisme spirit!
Recorded 2013 in Nantes
(by Simone Parrini)
Hi, my name is Leon Hermans, I’m 85 years old.
I can say that I spent my entire life with MN.
At the beginning of Second World War, in 1941, the Belgian Scouting Federation decided to train their leaders in Hébertisme.
They had to attend 10 sessions, both theoretical and practical, and then pass exams in order to be certified and allowed to teach MN in their turn into their local sections.
This measure really boosted Hébertisme, can you imagine 7000 guys from every-where in Belgium who had to study and pass those exams…
We started with training sessions in the weekends, then we did Hébert camps in La Frenaye (25 km from Brussels) with very motivated young people, very eager to climb trees and so on. It was a very nice domain owned by the Scouting Federa-tion of Scouts, we obtained the authorization and the help of parents for building a circuit of obstacles. At the end of the circuit, we used to plunge in a dirty pond in or-der to refresh and take a rest ….
After this, I was invited to lead an Hébert camp in Italy, in a village on the lake of Como.
There were around 25 students coming from different parts of Italy, some had to travel longer than me to get there…
I discovered a wonderful spirit: at 7 am I was bare chest to start the training and they were eager to start, to be close to me to get the best places. The spirit was solidarity and mutual help: families like carrying and so on are very good for developing this…
During the war (1941) we really collaborated with the Belgian Scouting Federation we were travelling to local sections all across Belgium in order to train the local re-sponsible.
I did a leaflet (brochure) with pictures and so on …. and it’s crazy the similarities there are between GH and Baden-Powell : respect of Nature, respect of others…
I think the war helped in spreading Hébertisme: there were not so many distractions and also we liked to “tease” the Germans, we were not allowed to wear uniforms and so on… but we were climbing trees, organizing camps and so on …
Henry Francois used to train with us in La Frenaye, during the winter we were running in snow with sandals, but he was running barefoot. Later we understood why ; he went climbing the Mont Blanc with some friends, a storm hit their camp and destroyed most of the material, they dig a shelter in the snow and waited for rescues. When the helicopter arrived, as he was fit, he let his place to his 2 friends. The next helicopter took 2 days to arrive but unfortunately it was too late …. This shows what « Être fort pour être utile » means.
We dedicated the 2 next camps to him after this episode.
I was going to work very early in the morning to be able to give MN lessons. During one year, I taught handicapped people. You should have seen the enthusiasm of these boys, when I arrived driving my Volvo, they would recognize it and they would run to me knocking at the window saying “the ball the ball please!” … and then I showed the boxing glove and they laughed …
We did extraordinary things with those boys, in the end some of them joined at Esneux with the “normal” people and you could see no difference.
I also had to substitute during 2 years the local instructor in Waterloo who was a pro-fessional military and had been moved to Bruges. It was not easy for me but I did it in order to help.
[From now on there are some cuts, there is noise and the talk becomes less structured…]
I spend a lot of time in checking all the camps, going from one to another, even some time using a sled to carry the equipment I was bringing with me (balls, ropes, etc .) to give my training to the 22 girls waiting for it at that place.
The MN centre of Bruxelles was the first centre in Belgium with a team of very motivated trainers. The president and main trainer (Leon himself) was very strict on the punctuality of the traineeships. The reason of that is that if you arrive late, then there is a big risk of problems and accidents (because you do not have time to warm up your body correctly). We were training a lot in « Plateau », by waves.
During the week ends we did camps and the partners were invited (many women were in the club and they were very motivated you should have seen how they were climbing trees).
I have 4 children they all did MN.
The eldest was a military parachutist like me. He rode by bike from Canada to Loui-siana to visit his sister who was a teacher there. He crossed the France-England Channel swimming
My second child became professional physical educator and used to teach MN.
We can say that our family really “breathed “ MN.
But I sacrificed my family life for MN: at the end of my working day, when arriving close to Namur, I often wondered what to do: turn left and get comfortably at home or go to training session.
I have no regrets (je ne regrette rien). I’m writing a book with this title.
The first president of the Belgian Hebert Federation was Marcel Beugnier; he was prisoner in Germany during the war; he did a lot for the federation, also from finan-cial point of view: he was working at the National Post and obtained from the Minis-ter to print stamps with GH theme and the profits went to the Federation. During his last years I assisted him and when he died, I became the president and remained for 15 years.
I was also Vice President of European federation, in the end it was me who directed because the President had some family issues.