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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
He also joins the ranks of the famous, such as Jimmy Savile, Brian Rix and Eric Morecambe.
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 . . .
The second paragraph was
clear enough: as far as the government was concerned,
Additional research from the book "Called up, sent down" by Tom Hickman