My Time as a Bevin Boy by Phil Yates   U3A Member

The Bevin Boys Association was formed in 1989, 40 years after the coal mines finished employing the Bevin Boys.

Phil began in April 1945, one month before VE Day and worked in the mines for 3 years until March 1948. The name comes from the then Ernest Bevin who came from a poor Devonian family who got into Government as Foreign Secretary until his death in 1951 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

In 1940 there was a crisis in the coal industry. The miners were leaving, fed up with conditions and many joined the forces so not enough men were left to do the work. So in 1942 Bevin pleaded for men to go back but none volunteered. The only option was for Bevin to conscript men to the mines. In September 1943 and December young men compulsorilly were balloted from a hat. It took a month to train the men by PT Instructors at training centres in Wales and Yorkshire. 12 men slept in a dormitary, there was a sick bay and canteen. Some worked for 2 months then deserted, caught and sent to prison then joined the forces. Wages were £3.10s wk, 30s for hostel and 6d for carbolic soap. The shifts were 6am-1pm, 1.30-9.30pm and 10pm-7am. Overtime was possible but just 1 week a year off and Christmas allowed if the boss was good. Phil was in Yorkshire so went climbing and walking.

No uniform was allowed off duty, no ID given or passes or entry to the NAFFI and no compensation for injuries, no pension.

Phil began at a pit in Pontefract, 10 miles from Leeds at the Prince of Wales Colliery, going from Winchester on the Pines Express and after 2 weeks was working 800 ft underground via a very fast cage. There were pit ponies, hardly ever going out and needed careful handling. He also worked on the surface, very dusty and noisy separating the coal from slack in tubs using sign language. Later he activated the cage as an Onsetter.

Also he did pony driving for 6-7 hrs, very hot work.

The Bevin Boys were demobbed by their Personal Number and a letter from the Ministry of Labour and asked to stay on when most said "No". However, one man from Winchester did stay and eventually became the Manager of 3 pits and Chairman of the Bevin Boys Association.

Phil was offered a post in an office in Yorkshire but declined and returned to a Solicitors office in Winchester.

At the end of the war no mention was made of the Bevin Boys by the then Government but Churchill sent them a message to say when you are asked what you did, say "you got the coal". There were 21,000 Bevin Boys getting the coal for the nation!

Hazel Booth