Rhagor - Opening our national collections

Remembering the Bevin Boys in the Second World War

The underground front

[image: Bevin Boys Association blazer badge.]

Bevin Boys Association blazer badge.

The story of the Bevin Boys miners has been largely untold; those many men who spent their war on the so-called 'underground front' went unrecognized for almost half a century.

When Britain declared war in 1939, thousands of experienced miners left the mines to join the armed services or transfer to higher-paid 'war industries'. By the summer of 1943 over 36,000 men had left the coal industry. The British government decided that it needed around 40,000 men to take their places.

Ernest Bevin

[image: Bevin Boys]

Bevin Boys from South Wales

In December 1943, Ernest Bevin, the wartime Minister of Labour and National Service, devised a scheme whereby a ballot took place to put a proportion of conscripted men into the collieries rather than the armed services. Every month, ten numbers were placed in a hat; two numbers were drawn out, and those whose National Service registration number ended with those numbers were directed to the mining industry.
These "ballotees" became known as "Bevin Boys".

Alongside the ballotees were the "optants", men who had volunteered for service in the coal mines rather than the armed services. Between 1943 and 1948, 48,000 young men were conscripted for National Service Employment in British coal mines. Contrary to a common belief at the time, only 41 of them were conscientious objectors.

Bevin Boys, therefore, came from all social classes and regions in Britain, not just the mining areas. Many had only been vaguely aware of the mining industry before being drafted. Most had set their sights on a career in the armed services and were horrified to be sent to the collieries instead.

Punishment

[image: Bevin Boys commemorative banner ]

Bevin Boys commemorative banner

In April 1944 the Colliery Guardian reported that 135 ballotees had been prosecuted for failing to comply with the direct labour order. Thirty two went to prison, although 19 of them were released when they eventually agreed to go into the mining industry.

Picks and shovels

[image: Bevin Boys annual reunion]

A retired pit pony poses with two former Bevin Boys at the annual reunion at Trentham Gardens, stoke on Trent.

Unlike the ordinary miners, who wore their own clothes, Bevin Boys were issued with overalls, safety helmet and working boots. However, they still had to pay for their own tools and equipment, which led to complaints that the infantry were not expected to supply their own rifles so why were they expected to buy picks and shovels!

Only a small proportion of Bevin Boys were actually employed cutting coal on the coal face, although some worked as colliers' assistants filling tubs or drams. The majority worked on the maintenance of haulage roads, or generally controlled the movement of underground transport. A small number who had previous electrical or engineering experience were given similar work in the collieries.

Bevin Boys suffered from resentment from local mining families who had seen their own children drafted into the armed services only to be replaced by "outsiders". In addition, just being young men out of uniform could lead to abuse from the public or attention from the police as possible deserters, "army dodgers" or even enemy spies. It is not surprising that they suffered from high absentee rates. A very small number stayed in mining after the war, but most couldn't wait to leave.

Official records destroyed

[image: Bevin Boys attending the Remembrance Parade in London on the 14th November 2004]

Former Bevin Boys attending the Remembrance Parade in London on the 14th November 2004

The ballots were suspended in May 1945, with the last Bevin Boys being demobbed in 1948. Unlike other conscripts, they had no right to go back to their previous occupations, they received no service medals, "demob" suit or even a letter of thanks. Because the official records were destroyed in the 1950s, former Bevin Boy ballotees cannot even prove their service unless they have kept their personal documents.

The first official Bevin Boys reunion was held at the former Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum in 1989. More have been held at various venues since then. However, it was not until 1995, 50 years after Victory in Europe Day, that the British government finally recognized their service to the war effort and former Bevin Boys are now officially allowed to take part in the Remembrance Day service at Whitehall.

For any information on the Bevin Boys Association please contact
Warwick H Taylor, Vice President, Bevin Boys Association, 1 Rundlestone Court, Dorchester Dorset, DT1 3TN

This article forms part of a booklet in the series 'Glo' produced by Big Pit: National Mining Museum.

Article Date: 3 January 2008

33 comments

Lynda Maxwell Nithsdale on 22 May 2014, 07:54



I know the bevin boys were at last acknowledged for their essential service in the world wars. My Father was one of the men given no choice but to work in the coal mines. He was not of the character really for this, but I do know whatever my Father undertook he always gave one hundred percent.

Where do I contact for certificate or whatever was freely given as recognition.

If anyone has any photographs or memories, please contact me;- 07756085329

His name was John 'Jack' FORTUNE.


































Stanley O Jones on 24 April 2014, 21:28

It all happened a long time ago. At the time I was anxious to "get out ", but I look back on those years as happy - but then I was young!!!!

bossman on 17 April 2014, 13:22

good work

Stanley Jones on 22 February 2014, 20:29

I worked at the Morrison Busty Colliery as an Electrician for 4 years. Being an electrician meant that from time to time I had to decide that some piece of equipment could not be used. This often angered the Overmen and Deputies to have a "Bevin lad" dictate to them. However it was I who had to sign if anything went wrong! On the whole I enjoyed the experience of working in the mines, and learned an awful lot from many of the miners who were very wise men. I see a "medal" on the internet for Bevin Boys. Those who see it should understand that it has not been authorised by the powers that be. We were given no real medal - only an inferior badge.

lynne vaughan on 12 February 2014, 21:15

My father was a Bevin boy. He first attended the Oakdale Colliery and then went down the mines in 1944 at the Taff Merthyr Colliery. He boarded with a lady in Trelewis. Jeff Turner is my father's name he has just died and does anyone have a poem about the great work these amazing men did during the 2nd world war?

Amgueddfa Cymru on 4 February 2014, 12:09

Dear Suzanne, you may find the following page on our website useful, it outlines the resources available on researching family members who worked in the coalfields.



http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/2326/

Graham Davies
Online Curator - Amgueddfa Cymru

Suzanne Cosgrove on 4 February 2014, 04:20

I am trying to find information about my grandfather Sydney Walter Tabrum who was working as a Bevin Boy in South Wales. Any help appreciated

Amgueddfa Cymru on 15 January 2014, 10:05

Dear christine jafari,
Thank you for your comment, the Museum doesn't hold records relating to mineworkers, although there are some helpful guidelines available on our 'Research Welsh Coalfields' section of our website: http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/2326/

Graham Davies
Online Curator - Amgueddfa Cymru

christine jafari on 13 January 2014, 19:28

Hi can anybody help me my dad was a bevan boy John Thomas Henry Windaybank ,he died in 1974 hen I was 11 years old .I would love find out in which mine he was in if you can help please email on christinejafari@yahoo.co.uk.

Shirley Tyrell on 10 November 2013, 12:59

My Dad, Peter Bennett was a Bevan Boy. He is at the end on the right of the 2004 Remembrance picture. He said he would go to the parade just once for the experience but because it was such a wonderful experience he went many times. My Mum, daughter(who was only 5 at the time) and myself also went and were so proud to see him marching. We went each year making sure we were on Whitehall before 8.00 in the morning so we were right where the Queen lays the wreath. Unfortunately my Dad is no longer with us but as I laid a wreath in our village this morning I said a prayer for him and all the other Bevan Boys.

Gillian Seaward on 10 November 2013, 12:21

Didn't they strike for more money during the war?

poolcoolstool on 17 September 2013, 05:49

great facts so cool love it

Amgueddfa Cymru on 28 June 2013, 15:57

Hello Lorraine, Jacklyn

Thank you for the comments, and the memories.

You might be interested in the Bevin Boys issue of our GLO magazine. GLO is a People's History publication by Big Pit: National Coal Museum, in Blaenavon.

Here's the website address to read the Bevin Boys issue online:

http://issuu.com/amgueddfacymru/docs/glo_1

You can learn more about GLO and see and download all the other issues at the following address:

http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/rhagor/glo/

Lorraine Brooks on 28 June 2013, 14:33

My dad was a Bevin boy, his name was Donald James Green (Don). He was working in Martins Bank at Trentham Gardens clearing house in Trentham, Staffordshire when he was called up. He had his medical was classed as A1 fit and a few weeks later received notification that he was to be sent to the pit as a Bevin boy. He worked in a few pits in Stoke on Trent, Kemball, Holditch and Hem Heath until his demob in 1949/50. He had 6 brothers who were all called up to the armed forces, but it was never seen by them that he did less for the war effort (in fact quite the opposite)
He always felt that the effort of the Bevin boys was never recognised and that it should have been. He only left the mines with a large number of blue scars!!
Sadly my dad died in 2001 from a condition associated with working in coal dust.
He didn't serve in the armed forces but he and many others certainly helped keep industry working and "the home fires burning", and I am immensely proud.
Does anyone remember him? he was from Hanford.

Jacklyn Reynolds on 19 June 2013, 18:11

My Dad was a bevin boy and worked down in the pit. He had a few near misses with runaway carts and had to jump into alcoves along the rails to survive. I am so happy that the bevin boys were finally acknowledged.My Dad received a certificate and a medal at the age of 80. He passed away on June 19th of 2012 at the age of 86. His name was James William Gordon and I think he was in the pit somewhere near Leigh Lancashire. If anyone has any pictures or information, it would be gratefully appreciated. My e-mail is chrisreynolds07@hotmail.com Thank You.

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Glossary

Demob / demobbed
Abbreviation of "demobilized" - the process of standing down a nation's armed forces from combat-ready status, such as a result of victory in war.

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