The establishment of coal mines in Europe dates back to the Middle Ages, but it was only from the eighteenth until the nineteenth centuries that production reached its peak. This precious energy source was extracted by hand in extreme conditions, at great depths, and regulated by insufficient safety rules, despite the tough nature of this work, the mines offered employment to thousands of miners.
Fraternity pays a vibrant tribute to miners across the world - to countries, cities and families that have retained a rite of passage through coal mines. Deep scars remain but also provide a rich heritage: mining cities and villages, churches, sports halls, as well as wind and brass bands which were formed in these mining environments. Persistence, camaraderie and the pleasure of being together are all traits that are found in both miners and musicians. The history of mines forms an integral part of the history of amateur orchestras. Their state of mind has been passed on through many generations, which explains their close link even nowadays.
Fraternity is based on one of the most significant events in the history of coal mining; the catastrophe at Courrieres, the most momentous mining accident in Europe and the second most significant in the world. It took place on 10th March 1906 between Courrieres and Lens in Northern France.
Commissioned by the European Brass Band Association and the Confederation Musicale de France through the Euro Festival in 2016 commemorating 110 years since the disaster at Courrieres.
l. Black Land
A mining area of minor importance. It is still dark and miners wake up one after another. They prepare their food, which they will eat at the bottom of the mine, and proceed to work. The cold and the wind freeze their faces in the total darkness of the sky and the earth. The noise of the machines increase as they approach. Although go there every day, it never fails to impress them.
ll. The Towering Colliery
The head frame, with its gigantic wheels, imposes its presence. There is a heavy and icy atmosphere. It is just before 6am as the miners attach their lamp checks to the ‘tally board’ and take out their lamps before presenting themselves at lift shaft. They feel the heat come out of the coal face, as if to prepare them for their descent to hell.
lll. From Light to Dark
The miners are pushed against each other in the lift which takes them to a depth of between 320 and 340 metres. They dive into this black hole; the shaft engulfs them like a gaping mouth.
IV. Extracting the Coal
At the bottom of the mine, every miner joins his tunnel and post. Work begins - the coal cutters hit the veins to extract blocks of coal and to place them into trucks pushed by other workers. The horses pull the wagons, one attached to another, before lifting them outside by using the lift.
6.43am: a deafening sound. A terrible explosion devastates 70 miles of galleries in a few seconds. A pocket of firedamp combined with a blow of coal dust causes the disaster. 1664 miners are trapped.
VI. Bring out the Dead Miners
The aftermath is alarming. The shafts are blocked, so bringing up miners by the lifts is difficult, or even impossible, as they have been immobilised by ground movement. When the rescuers finally reach certain galleries, they are faced with a horrifying sight.
VII. Fraternity Prayer
The crowds rush to the pits and the streets are packed. All are looking for a parent or loved one. A large number of miners never identified because of severe burns. They are buried hastily in a communal grave three days after the catastrophe with a total of 1099 victims.
Three days after the disaster, search is abandoned to stifle the fire and protect the coal seam. Twenty days after the explosion, thirteen survivors find their way through many kilometres of galleries in complete darkness: a fourteenth survivor is located four days later. This mining area gains major attention. Hope grows again thanks to new ideas in terms of politics and safety. This disaster provoked an earth-shattering and unanimous “never again” reaction across the mining community worldwide. In an era with diplomatic tensions between European countries, French, as well as Belgians and Germans, were among the rescuers of the catastrophe at Courriers. This is a clear demonstration of the unique rush of solidarity and fraternity. The miners kept a close bond with brass and wind bands. Even today amateur orchestras remain guardians of te heritage and human values of this era.
Since 2012, the coal fields of Nord-Pas de Calais have been featured on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Fraternity is dedicated to Louis Deleruyelle, parental grandfather of Thierry Deleruyelle. Miner in the coalmines of northern France from the age of 12.
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