Bevin Boys commemorative banner
Bevin Boys commemorative banner
Bevin Boys
Bevin Boys from South Wales
Bevin Boys Association blazer badge.
Bevin Boys Association blazer badge.
Bevin Boys annual reunion
A retired pit pony poses with two former Bevin Boys at the annual reunion at Trentham Gardens, stoke on Trent.
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 underground front

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

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

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

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

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.

Comments(17)

KENNETH OAKES
5 February 2018, 15:57
WHY WAS LIMESTONE COBBLES USED TO HELP THE SHAFT FILLINGS?? AND WAS THE RAILS AND TUBS TAKEN OUT OF THE WORKINS BEFORE SEALING ??
KENNETH OAKES
31 January 2018, 22:58
THANKS FOR THE INFO ON SEALING THE PIT SHAFTS I ALWAYS THOUGHT IT WOULD BE A LARGE JOB TO FILL SUCH A LARGE SPACE SAFELY .. WHO HAS TO PAY FOR THAT??
Ceri Thompson, Curator, Coal Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
31 January 2018, 10:22

In the past mine shafts have been simply capped, either, in the past, thick balks of wood large set at the shaft top and covered with loose material (these tended to rot and eventually re-expose the shaft) or a concrete plug around 3 feet thick placed over the shaft to cover it.

From 1979 the National Coal Board adopted a new policy of shaft filling.
All roadways at the pit bottom are sealed off and the pit bottom filled with concrete to a shaft depth of 30 metres. Limestone cobbles are tipped down to fill another 30 metres of shaft. This was topped with another 10 metres of concrete and another 30 metres of limestone all the way to the top of the shaft. As they neared the top of the shaft they put a 30 metre cap of concrete onto it to finally seal it.

Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
30 January 2018, 16:23
Hi there Kenneth

I'll pass this on to our curator and let you know what they say.

Best

Sara
Digital Team
kenneth oakes
29 January 2018, 16:42
when a pit is closed how do they seal the pit shafts and seal them for safety??
KENNETH OAKES
17 January 2018, 23:40
THANKS FOR THAT CERI
Ceri Thompson
3 January 2018, 10:31
Dear Kenneth Oakes

At 3750 feet, Wolstanton colliery (1920-1985) in the North Staffordshire Coalfield is reputed to be the deepest coal shafts in western Europe..

Ceri Thompson, Curator, Big Pit
kenneth oakes
28 December 2017, 22:02
which is the deepest colliery shaft in the u k the ashton moss shaft was 2.800 ft when it was first built in aston-under-lyne lancashire
kenneth oakes
18 November 2017, 02:40
i believe eric morcambe of morcambe and wise was drafted as a bevin boy
kenneth oakes
11 November 2017, 18:37
i was a bevin boy 1944 at ashton moss pit i stayed in four years because i got a job on surfice on maintenance the pit now is a shopping mall ashto-under- lyne tameside

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