Mining's Bevin Boys Like Eric Morecambe Were Forgotten Heroes of Second World War
May 15, 2020 - The splendid report on VE Day 75 (The Yorkshire Post, May 9) was well presented and received, remembering the young men who gave their all so we could celebrate victory, freedom and democracy.
In 1943 there was a battalion of men drawn by lot and conscripted to work in the coal mines of the UK. One in ten of the men called up for national service were chosen for employment at the collieries throughout the United Kingdom.
Bevin Boys played a vital role during the Second World War.
Bevin Boys were drafted in to work in the pits to increase the supply of much-needed coal to help the war effort.
Unlike those whose served in the military, these conscripted men were not awarded medals for their contribution to the war effort and official recognition by the British Government was conferred much later in 1995, when the Queen mentioned the Bevin Boys in her speech. In June 2007, the conscripts were awarded a veterans’ badge similar to the badge awarded to the military veterans.
These men were known as Bevin Boys because the programme to draft men to work in the pits to increase the supply of much-needed coal to help the war effort was the idea of Ernest Bevin, the Minister for Fuel, Light and Power.
Forty-eight thousand Bevin Boy conscripts, optants and volunteers formed an association including in its membership Eric Morecambe of Morcambe & Wise, footballer Nat Lofthouse, Brain Rix the actor/president of Mencap, accountants, police officers, MPs and trade union leaders. Bevin Boys received six weeks’ training before going underground to work.
As the war went on the need for greater coal output to service ships, trains and the generation of electricity was recognized by the Government. Industrial relations in the mining industry was poor; in 1942 there were several strikes over wages which reduced output.
In the Pontefract and Castleford area, Bevin Boys were mostly from the Leeds area who accepted the terms and conditions that applied throughout the industry and soon became friendly and part of the mining workforce. The last ballot took place in 1945 but the conscripts were not released until 1948 and a number of the Bevin Boys continued to work in the pits.