World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Bevin Boys 

Memories of The Mine
by Roger Woddis

The call of England, home and beauty
Led him to labour underground;
Young as he was, he did his duty,
Unsung, unhonoured and uncrowned.

No bugle summoned him to glory,
Nor did he hear the cannon's roar;
The hero of a different story,
He fought another kind of war.

Today the memory still lingers
Of fortune lying on the mat,
The day that fate put forth her fingers
And drew his number from the hat.

And then, beyond the weeks of training,
The pit-cage dropping like a stone,
The ache, with nerve and muscle straining,
That penetrated to the bone.

Though forty years have left him older,
There's no forgetting even now
When danger hovered at his shoulder
And there was sweat upon his brow.

WW2 Reminices Copyright

 

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

Bevin Boys were young British men conscripted to work in the coalmines of the United Kingdom, from December 1943 until 1948. Chosen at random from conscripts but also including volunteers, nearly 48,000 Bevin Boys performed vital but largely unrecognised service in the mines, many of them not released until years after the Second World War ended. Ten percent of those conscripted aged 18–25 were selected for this service.

Creation of the programme

The programme was named after Ernest Bevin, a former trade union official and then British Labour Party politician who was Minister of Labour and National Service in the wartime coalition government. At the beginning of the war the Government, underestimating the value of experienced coal-miners, conscripted them into the armed forces. By mid-1943 the coal mines had lost 36,000 workers, and these workers were generally not replaced due to the availability of cleaner work. It became evident that the miners needed to be replaced. The government made a plea to men liable to conscription to volunteer to work in the mines instead, but few offered and the shortage continued.

When December arrived and Britain was becoming desperate for a continued supply of coal for both the war effort and a winter at home, it was decided that a percentage of conscripts would be directed to the mines. The colloquial name "Bevin Boys" came from the speech Bevin made announcing the scheme:

We need 720,000 men continuously employed in this industry. This is where you boys come in. Our fighting men will not be able to achieve their purpose unless we get an adequate supply of coal.

Programme

Selection of conscripts

To make the process random, one of Bevin's secretaries would each week pull a digit from a hat containing all ten digits, 0–9, and all men liable for call-up that week whose National Service number ended in that digit were directed to work in the mines, with the exception of any selected for highly skilled war work such as flying planes and in submarines, and men found physically unfit for mining. Conscripts came from different professions, from desk work to heavy labour, and included those who might otherwise have become commissioned officers.

Working conditions

The Bevin Boys were first given 6 weeks of training (4 off-site, 2 on) before working in the mines. The work was typical coal mining, largely a mile or more down dark, dank tunnels, and conscripts were supplied with helmets and steel-capped safety boots. Bevin Boys did not wear uniforms or badges, but the oldest clothes they could find. Being of military age and without uniform caused many to be stopped by police and questioned about avoiding call-up.

Since a number of conscientious objectors were sent to work down the mines as an alternative to military service, there was sometimes an assumption that all Bevin Boys were "Conchies", and, although the right to conscientiously object to killing was recognised in conscription legislation, as it had been in the First World War, old attitudes still prevailed amongst some members of the general public, with resentment by association towards Bevin Boys. In 1943 UK Government minister Ernest Bevin said in Parliament: "There are thousands of cases in which conscientious objectors, although they may have refused to take up arms, have shown as much courage as anyone else in Civil Defence." The Peace Movement 1940

End of the programme

The programme was wound up in 1948. At that time the Bevin Boys received no medals, nor the right to return to the jobs they had held previously, unlike armed forces personnel. Bevin Boys were not fully recognised as contributors to the war effort until 1995, 50 years after VE Day, in a speech by Queen Elizabeth II.

On 20 June 2007 Tony Blair informed the House of Commons during Prime Minister's Questions that thousands of conscripts who worked down mines during the Second World War would receive an honour. The prime minister told the Commons the Bevin Boys would be rewarded with a Veterans Badge – similar to the HM Armed Forces Badge awarded by the Ministry of Defence.

The first badges were awarded on 25 March 2008 by the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, at a reception in 10 Downing Street, marking the 60th anniversary of discharge of the last Bevin Boys.

Responsibility within Government for the Bevin Boys lies with the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The Bevin Boys Association is trying to trace all 48,000 Bevin Boy conscripts, optants or volunteers who served in Britain's coal mines during and after the war, from 1943 to 1948.