The Journey into the Past of Alfred Kühn – Chapter 5

My father was now 25 years old.

The first well in the mine he was assigned to was the Puits Cuvelette. He was hired as a labourer on the night shift. At the same time, in Charente, there was some kind of upheaval. My grandfather had left the town council and he moved with the whole Brangier family, with my mother and I, in November 1948. The move was to Les Billaux, a small commune near Libourne, in the Gironde. My father was still far away from us, in Moselle. However in December 1948, he was able to join us in Les Billaux and spend Christmas with the family.

It was then at the end of 1948 that my mother saw, for the first time, so much money on the table. My father was proud to give her the wages he had earned for the few weeks he had worked in the mines.

After these few days off, my father went back to Moselle to work and also to look for a place to live with us. While going to a hairdresser, he told him his story that he has a wife and a child in Charente and that he was looking for a place to bring us and live with him. This hairdresser offered him a room in his house.

At that time, since the liberation, the inhabitants had the obligation, for those who could, to free up a room or a bedroom to accommodate the American soldiers. Later on, many families had a room for workers who were boarders. This allowed these families to have additional income. This was called in German (ein Kostgägen). So my father agreed to rent this room from the Oyda family. It was located at 89, rue de St Avold in l’Hôpital. It is the little house on the left seen on this postcard.


My mother and I arrived there on February 3, 1949. I walked for the first time on February 12, 1949, 9 days after our arrival in Moselle. We stayed there for 4 months, from February to May 1949, in that room the Oyda family had rented to us.

But my parents were still looking for an accommodation with the H.B.L. company because these were allocated free of charge to the staff working in the mines and, therefore, were very much in demand.

A friend suggested to my father that he should come and live in one of the free barracks heated by the mines. After careful consideration, my parents thought: “There are other families who are housed like that; why not us? »

On May 15, 1949 we arrived in these barracks.

Camp Barrois in Merlebach was a former German prison camp.

This is a barrack for two families.

This barrack was shared in the middle, on each side with its entrance. The furnishings for each family were a bed and an iron cupboard, a table and four chairs. My parents bought a small cast-iron stove whose flue gas was channelled through the window fanlight.

One day, my parents were visited by the former owners of the house at l’Hôpital. My father and mother were ashamed to receive them and to show who they were living. This family then offered to rent them a two-room flat at the same address. They accepted and we returned to l’Hôpital in October/November 1949. We stayed there until December 1956. In the meantime, in the maternity ward of the mines in Creutzwald in the Moselle region of Germany, Roseline, a little baby girl was born on 1 May 1951.

The first time my parents went back to the south-west of France with their two children was in July 1951 for the holidays. It was in Carbon-Blanc in the Gironde where my grandparents had bought, in February/March 1950, a small wine-growing estate.

First holidays in Carbon-Blanc

Following an accident, my father was transferred from work at the bottom of the mine to a day shift. From 26 March 1962 to 1 April 1963, he worked at the Puits Vouters, as a daily labourer. He prepared the equipment in cars used at the bottom of the mine. Since the wages were not the same as the ones at the bottom, he asked to go back and work at the bottom. He was then transferred to the Puits Reumaux as a spiker.

On December 29th 1970, having a 21 years and 2 months seniority, he ended his career at the H.B.L. company as a bure driver. A bure is a small well between two floors where the material destined for the exploitation of the mine passes through.

In 1970/1971, the H.B.L. company encouraged the oldest workers to retire and the youngest one for reconversion. My father who was 48 years old and having 21 years of service, chose the reconversion with the purchase of benefits and a bonus. He took this decision to leave the H.B.L. company for two reasons:

The first reason was that my parents wanted to join their daughter Roseline and their son-in-law. They were married in 1969 in Moselle. They had settled in Carbon-Blanc at my Grandmother’s place. My parents moved in January 1971.They left la cité des chênes in Homboug-Haut in Moselle, to live with their daughter in Carbon-Blanc at our Grandmother  Mrs Brangier’s place.

The second reason was that my father had lost 8 years of professional life for his retirement: 2 years spent in apprenticeship, 2 years in the German navy and the 4 years as a prisoner of war. To recover those 8 lost years, he has to contribute at least 2 years to a German retirement fund. That’s what he did. He left my mother with his daughter in Carbon-Blanc and went to Germany. He was hired there as a storekeeper by Michelin in Homboug, in Saarland in March 1971 until March 1973.

For the Easter’s holidays in 1973, my father took a few days off in the Pyrenees, in Mongie. It was there that he met a German family. He began to speak in German with them. The man of that family was the deputy manager at the Ford factory in Bordeaux. He had him hired at Ford as a warehouseman from July 1973 until 1979.

To be continued in Chapter 6…