World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Reserved Occupations
A reserved occupation (also known as essential services) is an occupation considered important enough to a country that those serving in such occupations are exempt - in fact forbidden - from military service. In a total war, such as the Second World War, where most fit men of military age were conscripted into the armed forces, exceptions were given to those who performed jobs vital to the country and the war effort which could not be abandoned or performed by others. Not only were such people exempt from being conscripted, they were often prohibited from enlisting on their own initiative, and were required to remain in their posts. Examples of reserved occupations include medical practitioners and police officers, but what is or is not a reserved occupation will depend on war needs and a country's particular circumstances.

World War II

In the UK, in 1938, a Schedule of Reserved Occupations had been drawn up, exempting certain key skilled workers from conscription. This was as a result of the problems from World War I, when too many skilled workers were allowed to enlist, thus creating serious problems in certain key industries. Examples of reserved occupations in the Second World War included coal mining, ship building, and many engineering-related trades.

The situation and the Schedule were constantly reviewed, most particularly because of the influx of women into the workplace, for example into the munitions industry, which freed up men to be called up. Many in reserved occupations joined civil defence units such as the Special Constabulary, the Home Guard or the ARP, which created additional responsibilities on top of their work, although this allowed the men to ‘serve’ without having to join up, thus alleviating the frustration many felt. Also, many pacifists and conscientious objectors worked in reserved occupations as a compromise or to avoid call-up. Harper Adams University College saw a huge demand for places during the second world war, as both students and farmers were exempt from conscription.

In the UK coal mining was not a reserved occupation at the start of the war, and there was a great shortage of coal miners. So from December 1943 one in in ten men conscripted was chosen at random to work in the coal mines. These men became known as Bevin Boys after the creator of the scheme, Ernest Bevin, the Minister of Labour and National Service.