For more than a year, photographers Axel Ruhomaully, Franck Depaifve, and Roméo Balancourt got to witness the children of Cheratte acquiring a new perception of their origins, with a touching pride. They now see their grandparents as, heroes who stayed anonymous for too long. These pictures by the famous portraitist Roméo Balancourt unveil a pride that was hidden under the wrinkles for too long.
I arrived in August ’59, just before the great strike. I wanted to work at the Fabrique Nationale, but I needed a work permit. The only solution was to work in a coal mine… I started out pushing; trolleys; sometimes we simply had to wait for the guys to unload the equipment. At times, I even had to wait more than an hour, with nothing to do!
Giuseppe, serial number, Miner in Cheratte from 1961 to 1964
You can’t imagine what it’s like to come back after forty years. So many memories, good and bad, but it is as if it were only yesterday… And it’s important for the kids to know what it was like.
Johan, AKA Johnny, serial number 693, mechanic at Cheratte from 1963 to 1977.
Johan was one of the first to grant us his trust. He passed away after showing the mine to the children one last time.
We had been taking exams for 4 days in Micheroux, we were getting bored and went for a walk. As we crossed the Wandre bridge, we didn’t dare to go any further, since we didn’t know the area. Then a bus of tourists stopped and, after learning where we came from, clapped and shouted “turcos, turcos!”.
Ismet, serial number 229
Miner in Cheratte from 1963 to 1967
I left Turkey to get rich, convinced that I would come back soon, bearing gifts. It took me 11 years to understand that I would never come back, until my wife joined me with the kids. My sons Remzi and Mustafa were the only two Turks at school who didn’t speak a word of French.
Cemal, serial number 670.
Miner in Cheratte from 1964 to 1975.
My nonno (grandfather) was very much into craftsmanship and fixing things up, a skill he got at the mine and that he never stopped using during his life! As a project manager at the SPI, I am currently working to complete an ambitious project for the village, while respecting the places and the men who worked there.
Thomas, grandson of Pasquale, serial number 681.
Project manager at the SPI, an agency of economic development for the province of Liège.
When I arrived from Spain, I quickly understood two things: first, that I had to learn Italian to fit in, and second, that the miners’ pension fund was the richest in Europe because no one lived long enough to benefit from it…
Arturo, AKA “the American”, serial number 202
Miner in Cheratte from 1962 to 1977
It’s like we’ve been living next to superheroes who felt like they had nothing left to say. Now we look at them differently. We know that, even though the sky is bluer in Turkey, Italy or Spain, our story was written in Cheratte, and we can be proud of that…
Deniz, great granddaughter of a miner, student at Cheratte-Bas school
I came to Liège from Italy on 17 September 1951. I am 88 years old, and I remember that day like it was yesterday! They conveyed us to the barracks, where we got settled, and the next morning, we were already at the bottom of the mine.
Mario, serial number. 775
Miner in Cheratte from 1956 to 1977.
Photos portraits: Roméo Balancourt
Street Art: Monk
With the support of Wallonie