were young British men conscripted to work in the coal mines of the United Kingdom, from December 1943 until 1948. Chosen at random from conscripts but also including volunteers, nearly 48,000 Bevin Boys performed vital but largely unrecognised service in the mines, many of them not released until years after the Second World War ended. Ten percent of those conscripted aged 18–25 were selected for this service
Creation of the programme
The programme was named after Ernest Bevin, a former trade union official and then British Labour Party politician who was Minister of Labour and National Service in the wartime coalition government. 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 volunteer to work in the mines instead, 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:
We need 720,000 men continuously employed in this industry. This is where you boys come in. Our fighting men will not be able to achieve their purpose unless we get an adequate supply of coal.
Selection of conscriptsTo make the process random, one of Bevin's secretaries would each week pull a digit from a hat containing all ten digits, 0–9, and all men liable for call-up that week whose National Service number ended in that digit were directed to work in the mines, with the exception of any selected for highly skilled war work such as flying planes and in submarines, and men found physically unfit for mining. Conscripts came from different professions, from desk work to heavy labour, and included those who might otherwise have become commissioned officers.
The Bevin Boys were first given 6 weeks of training (4 off-site, 2 on) before working in the mines. 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. Being of military age and without uniform caused many to be stopped by police and questioned about avoiding call-up.
Since a number of conscientious objectors were sent to work down the mines as an alternative to military service, there was sometimes an assumption that all Bevin Boys were "Conchies", and, although the right to conscientiously object to killing was recognised in conscription legislation, as it had been in the First World War, old attitudes still prevailed amongst some members of the general public, with resentment by association towards Bevin Boys. In 1943 UK Government minister Ernest Bevin said in Parliament: "There are thousands of cases in which conscientious objectors, although they may have refused to take up arms, have shown as much courage as anyone else in Civil Defence." The Peace Movement 1940–49
End of the programme The programme was wound up in 1948. At that time the Bevin Boys received no medals, nor the right to return to the jobs they had held previously, unlike armed forces personnel. Bevin Boys were not fully recognised as contributors to the war effort until 1995, 50 years after VE Day, in a speech by Queen Elizabeth II.
On 20 June 2007 Tony Blair informed the House of Commons during Prime Minister's Questions that thousands of conscripts who worked down mines during the Second World War would receive an honour. The prime minister told the Commons the Bevin Boys would be rewarded with a Veterans Badge – similar to the HM Armed Forces Badge awarded by the Ministry of Defence.
The first badges were awarded on 25 March 2008 by the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, at a reception in 10 Downing Street, marking the 60th anniversary of discharge of the last Bevin Boys.
Responsibility within Government for the Bevin Boys lies with the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
The Bevin Boys Association is trying to trace all 48,000 Bevin Boy conscripts, optants or volunteers who served in Britain's coal mines during and after the war, from 1943 to 1948.
Other usages The term was also used facetiously of or by entrants to the Foreign Office during the time Bevin was Foreign Secretary, 1945–1951.
Famous Bevin Boys
DJ and charity worker "I went down as a boy and came up as a man."
"If that's what we were told to do by the country to save the country, that's what we did." Came from a mining family and was already working down the mines at the outbreak of war, opting to remain there afterwards, so not strictly a Bevin Boy.
Folk singer/poet Purdon stayed on in the Durham coal mines after the war. "For me there's three great generals – Geronimo, Alexander the Great and Arthur Scargill".
English Actor Comer began his career as a Bevin Boy, before gaining an engineering apprenticeship with Metropolitan-Vickers. Later to become well known for his roles as Les Brandon in I Didn't Know You Cared and, from 1973 until his death in 1984, as cafe owner Sid during the first 10 years of the long-running sitcom Last of the Summer Wine.
Moderate UK Labour politician On his discharge in 1948 he went to the University of Glasgow to study Medicine.
CBE, DL Actor/manager, and president of Mencap Rix volunteered to leave the RAF to join the Bevin Boy Scheme. "I have never regretted the decision," he says.
Comedian Half of the British comedy double act Morecambe and Wise, Morecambe worked at a mine in Accrington for 11 months, which may have affected his health and led to heart attacks later in life.
Dramatist The author of Equus and Amadeus, he graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge.
Footballer Went on to win 41 caps for Wales
Cricketer While serving as a Bevin Boy, Smithson was called into the Test cricket team for a tour of the West Indies.
Numismatic Author Rayner was conscripted into the mines during World War II.
Former Member of Parliament Represented both Rowley Regis and Tipton; and latterly for Warley West. Solicitor General for England and Wales from March 1974 to May 1979. Also chaired the Enemy Property Claims Assessment panel.
Police officer Former chief constable of Northumbria Police
(Lord) Paul Hamlyn Founder of the Hamlyn group of publishers and Music for Pleasure (record label) Worked as a Bevin Boy at Oakdale Colliery
Footballer Went on to win 33 caps for England
In popular culture Jez Lowe's song "The Sea and the Deep Blue Devil" is written from the point of view of a Bevin Boy who loses his girlfriend to a more glamorous Royal Navy recruit.
Roll of Honour was never to be, For black Bevin Boys such as we, Oh, the seams were no match for the sea, And the deep blue devil. Huw Pudner and Chris Hastings have written a folk song called "The Bevin Boys":
And it's down down down we go Into the darkness down below I got called up but I got sent down The Bevin Boys are going underground Douglas Livingstone's radio play, Road to Durham, is a fictional account of two former Bevin Boys, now in their eighties, as they visit the Durham Miners' Gala.
References 1.^ Bevin Boys – BERR 2.^ Called Up Sent Down : The Bevin Boys' War – Tom Hickman Pub. The History Press 2008 ISBN 0-7509-4547-8 3.^ The debate can be found here. 4.^ "Bevin Boys Association entry on Culture24". http://www.culture24.org.uk/am28467. Retrieved 16 December 2009. 5.^ Daily Telegraph 26-3-08 (Ibid) 6.^ Briefly SDP Obituary in Daily Telegraph Issue 47,544 (dated 14 April 2008 7.^ Giddings, Robert (30 April 2009). "RADIO: Seamless drama goes underground to dig deep for victory". Tribune. http://www.tribunemagazine.co.uk/2009/04/radio-seamless-drama-goes-underground-to-dig-deep-for-victory/. Retrieved 25 August 2011.  External linksWartime Memories – Bevin Boys and their recognition The Bevin Boys in Bures. Suffolk