Bevin Boys

 

Fred Staples receives "Bevin Boy" Medal

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 offer to work in the mines, 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:

Selection of conscripts

UNLUCKY DIP
For selection to be fair and seen to be fair, Bevin proposed to resort to the most impartial method of all, that of the ballot.
A draw will be made from time to time of one or more of the figures from O to 9 and those men whose National Service Registration Certificate numbers happen to end with the figure or figures thus drawn will be transferred to coalmining.

The first draw took place on 14 December 1941 - the ballot resorted for the first time since the second half of the eighteenth century when the militia was raised from parish lists. Until the end of the war in Europe the scheme would take one conscript in ten, but so badly were men needed in the pits that two draws were made that day - and were on six of the later thirty-two dates that followed, claiming one in five econscripted men

The newspapers reported that the draw took place in the presence of Lloyd George and Rab Butler, President of the Board of Trade and was made by a junior member of staff. More colourfully, the story subsequently changed, the numbers being plucked from Bevin's homburg by his secretary who`s name was concealed.
Spokesman was quoted as saying. "lest she should be molested by mothers of boys who were sent to the coalmines"

Conscripts came from different professions, from desk work to heavy labour, and included those who might otherwise have become commissioned officers.

The scheme ran between 1943 and 1948 and involved recruiting men aged between 18 and 25 years to carry out this work rather than serve in the armed forces. Some 48,000 men were either conscripted or volunteered under the scheme.
This worked out to approximately one in ten of the selected young men called up. This caused a great deal of upset as the many of the young men wanted to join the fighting forces and many felt that they were not valued. Even after the war ended when the majority of the servicemen returned home, these young men continued in the mines until 1948.

The really sad part of this tale is that the majority of these men were treated appallingly by other soldiers and members of the public. Not knowing the full circumstances of their deployment, they considered this an easy option by choosing the mines instead of fighting.
Government papers were not released by Whitehall until the 1970`s, outling how Bevin chose the men by literally picking their names out of a hat.


fred
medal


Fred Staples who lives in Cambridge Way, was aged 18 when he was conscripted to work down the Rossington mine in Yorkshire.

Fred was given 6 weeks of training before working down the mine. 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. There wasn't much high-tech mechanisation in those days, so it was all down to the pick and shovel and hard physical labour.

Never having strayed far from the village before the war, it was very daunting to suddenly find yourself one and a quarter miles underground in a mineshaft with the air filled with acrid coal dust and appalling working conditions.
Rossington employed some 3,000 workers and the working coal face was 5 miles from the exit of the mine shaft. The coal was transported from the coal face to the winding gear by means of ropes and buckets a far cry from todays mechanised conveyor belt.

During 1944, the residents of the two parishes donated to a "Bures Welcome Home Fund" which raised funds to give to the servicemen on their return home from the war. A token of the villagers gratitude for what they had endured whilst conscripted.
A sum totalling £1005 was raised, but the Bevin Boys were specifically excluded from receiving any benefit from this collection.

fred and Neil

During 1992 Fred was approached by British Coal and asked if he would like a return visit to the mine.
Fred took up this invitation and with the help of his son Neil, once again travelled underground.

How times had changed, the 3,000 men employed during the war had decreased to 500 and the output of the mine had risen by 300%.

Miniature boots made out of Rossington coal.

In June 2007 the Prime Minister announced that the Government would introduce a medal to formally recognise the contribution made by the Bevin Boys who worked in the UK coalfields during and immediately after World War II.

In recognition of this work, Fred received his medal early in September 2008, which now proudly sits on his mantelpiece.

There has been no response on the web site, asking if any other Bevin Boys live in the village.
Possibly, Fred may be the only village born ex-miner in the parish.

He also joins the ranks of the famous, such as Jimmy Savile, Brian Rix and Eric Morecambe.

The End
Whilst other servicemen were discharged after the war in 1945, the Bevin Boys continued another three years until 1948.
Even today, I have still come across appalling animosity against our brave Bevin Boys.

Each Bevin Boy received his discharge papers with the attached letter:-

You may, if you wish, take up employment in any industry during the period 56 days immediately following the date on which you leave coalmining employment. Thereafter you will be subject to the restrictions in seeking and obtaining employment imposed by the Control of Engagement Order in the same way as other civilians, and you should, if you are then unemployed, attend with this letter at a Local Office of the Ministry for advice regarding your position in relation to the choice of further employment . . .
If after leaving coal mining you claim unemployment benefit, the fact that you are released from your obligation to serve in the coal mining industry may not, of itself, enable you to satisfy the Statutory Authorities that you had just cause under Section 27 of the Unemployment Insurance Act 1936, voluntarily leaving your employment. You therefore are advised to make sure that you have a definite prospect of alternative employment before leaving coal mining.

The second paragraph was clear enough: as far as the government was concerned,
In leaving the pits Bevin Boys weren't so much being released from service as making themselves deliberately unemployed, and if they failed to get a job, they couldn`t expect any help from the State. Having in most cases given three years of their of their lives to their country, Bevin Boys considered that the height of ingratitude. But the first paragraph was more ominous: it seemed to contain the
veiled threat that if they didn't get a job within two months they could be sent back to coalmining
.



Alan Beales Sept 2008
updated Jan 2012
upodated may 2012

Additional research from the book "Called up, sent down" by Tom Hickman