World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                         Donald Goodge 

THE RECALLECTIONS OF A BEVIN BOY

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: DONALD GOODGE
Unit name: BEVIN BOY
Background to story: Civilian Force

 

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Donald Goodge.

I went down the mine in 1944, the wretched working and living conditions of some of those with whom I came into contact was unbelievable. At that time the school leaving age was 14, but children could leave school in their last term if they had a job to go to. i.e. at 13 years of age, I came across some who at 14 years old had already found employment underground. Often there was no alternative to mining because it was the only employment available in the area, in certain families boys were expected to follow their father, uncles, and grandfather and go into the pit. Because of the lack of information, understanding & ambition, many had limited horizons, and as was often the case, a persons future, and particularly for those from lower working class communities, was delineated by birth.

We had to walk 2 to 3 miles underground stooping all the way to our place of work, those who hewed the coal worked in a space 2ft 3in. i.e. 70cm height. The whole shift demanded extreme physical exertion. Our source of illumination was from oil lamps, which were locked to avoid a naked flame creating an explosion. If the lamp went out, it couldn’t be re lit so we crawled along the ground to find someone who had light, or stayed where we were until they came to find us.

There were no sanitary arrangements, and about 100 men and 10 horses were all doing what came naturally, the 10 horses were the most prolific! I am a “faddy” person, so before I ate my marmite sandwiches (because of wartime rationing marmite was a good alternate to “mucky fat”) I would spit on my hand and wipe it with my handkerchief the only method of hand washing available! We never experienced a health epidemic.

The miners/families were often housed in long rows of “pit” property (the lucky ones got a council house) those not so lucky lived in sub-standard slum property often along with bugs/fleas and undesirable creatures sometimes “the Council” would come along and “stove” a house i.e. fumigate. No baths at our pit so that keeping a house and clothes clean for a family of underground workers placed a tremendous strain on even the most efficient wife, some were unequal to the task, whilst others were worn down by serial child bearing.

THE WORK MEN DID, DETERMINED THE WAY THEY LIVED THEIR LIVES.
A few developed extreme religious or political views, a few had interesting hobbies, i.e. allotments, but many accepted their lot philosophically and the pubs, clubs and cigarette manufacturers and dog racing stadium prospered to the detriment of other parts of life. BUT THAT WAS UNDERSTANDABLE.