The Bevin Boys have been described by many as the forgotten army of WW2. In 1943 Britain was seriously short of coal, as a result of many miners leaving the industry whether to serve in HM Forces or to make more money in other forms of work, Britain had a a mere 3 weeks supply of coal left.
A decision was made by Labour Minister Ernest Bevin to introduce a scheme whereby by men eliglble for conscription into the Armed Forces be redirected into the coal mining industry As a result many thousands of young lads, around 48,000 from all walks of life ended up working in the mining industry, a notoriously tight knit and in many ways clique way of life, where generation after generation have went down the pit.
I myself come from such a family, 7 generations have worked in the pits of the Midlothian since the 1700’s my father being the last to do so.
It was a misconception that Bevin Boys were conscientious objectors, less than one in a thousand fitted into this category, the vast majority were conscripts or ‘opt in’s’ who volunteered for mine work. The scheme ran for four years and it must have came as a blow to many lads when the war finished that they were not demobbed.
Some enjoyed their work, some hated it, but either way I think all of them left the pits with a healthy respect for the men and boys who slaved underground for a living, let’s not forget that many miners were killed during and before and after the war. My Grandfather Michael Donlevy was one them he was killed with his mate just after the war in Lingerwood Pit. He was a young man in his 30’s and left a widow and 3 children, the youngest of whom, my Auntie Mary was 8 days old.
One of the Bevin Boys who worked at Newtongrange, George Ralston, was moved to write a book about his time underground. He did not do badly out his time in Nitten though, he met his wife here and took her back to ‘little Scotland’ or Corby to give it’s proper name. Here is an short quote from him.
“I moved to Corby in ’42 and worked on PLUTO , Pipeline Under The Ocean.Then I was called up for National Service in ’44. To my shock I was to be a “Bevin Boy “. Aneurin Bevin needed 1 in 10 conscripts to work in the coal mines.My father and grandfather were even more concerned because they had been coalminers for a time in Corby. But if your number got drawn out, that was it, you had to go!
I was sent to train at Muircock Hall,4 miles from Dunfermline.The other boys came from all over the country, Wales,Ireland,England.Some of them had never even seen a coalmine before!
Then I was sent to Newtongrange to Newbattle Colliery.I worked as a “Bevin Boy” for nearly 4 years.I was very affected, not only by working as a miner but by living in a mining community and the help I received from the people there.I’ve written a book about that time and I’m now very involved with The Scottish Mining Musuem at Newtongrange.
I want to say how much I admire the housewives on The Home Front.They were the ones who had to cope with bombing, rationing,bringing up the children, without them there would have been nothing. When I was in Corby at the Tube Works ,it was dirty, smelly,hot, sticky and there were young girls there in their turbans and dungarees,faces covered in oil.Yet at the dancing at night they looked lovely!
They’d made their own dresses.I’ll always remember that.
When I worked in Newtongrange I met this young girl on VJ day, we got together and got engaged.We married in Newtongrange and moved to Corby and we’ve been there ever since.
I’ve written a book about my experiences,called ” I was a Bevin Boy in The Lady Victoria Colliery.”
In 2008 Bevin Boys were recognised by the Labour Government for their war service with the issue of a badge, a number of them chose not to travel to London to receive their badge, and instead a ceremony was held at the National Mining Museum in my village, Newtongrange to present Bevin Boys with their awards. A number of them were interviewed and in this podcast they recall their experiences at the Lady Victoria and other pits throughout the land. You can hear them recall their experiences on my website