- Contributed by
- People in story:
- DENNIS FAULKNER
- Location of story:
- Mountain Ash
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 21 November 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk — Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Dennis Faulkner and has been added to the site with the author’s permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
The roadways were unlit, and had a railway line on sleepers in the centre. In between, there were hollows where the ponies laid their great feet. These often contained water, or horse deposits! One attempted to walk on the sleepers, however the spacing was not conducive to a comfortable pace and took some getting used to, especially as the distance to be covered by us was over one mile from the pit bottom. As we approached the face the roadway split several times. Different pairs of men proceeded along each one and we were no exception. At the end, and adjacent to the six-foot seam face was an empty coal wagon awaiting its load. Here my companion had a small pickaxe (called a mandrel), one or two shovels and a crowbar. For me there was a large scoop of about twenty inches square, with a hand hole on each side at the rim.
He took off his coat and standing his lamp on the ground near his working area, proceeded to return the coal, cut and dropped by the nightshift, to me. My job was to fill the scoop with coal and lift the thing up and over the edge of the wagon and dump the coal in. It was quite heavy, and this was hard hot dirty work. The dust showered all over me as I did this. As the fill came to about a foot from the rim of the wagon, I then had to select very large chunks of coal, and build a wall around the edge of the truck, up and over the rim. This done, I then piled in more coal with the scoop. As the wagon filled, this became more difficult, due to the height of the lift required, and he wanted large coal on the top. He expected me to load the twelve tons well before the end of the shift. He would then chalk his mark on the wagon and call for it to be taken off and an empty one brought up. We then started all over again until the end of the shift.
The face was a long one and there were other pairs of men working close by to right and left, each with their own wagon and short roadway leading back to the main one.
At the appointed time everyone stopped work and gathered together in small groups, sat on the ground, with their snap (sandwich) tin and water bottle. One told me to take out a sandwich and then close the tin immediately. This was to prevent the rats pinching the food! I asked if this were true, that there were rats all the way down here. He told everyone to switch off their lamps. This done, he placed his lamp a yard or so away and told me to watch. He then threw a piece of bread at the foot of the lamp and within seconds several large rats descended upon it! I was horrified to think they were all around us and in such numbers. I learned my lesson! Another was, that if, at this juncture, one experienced `the call of nature', then it was off into a dark corner and do it there!
At some time during each shift the `Deputy' came round to check on roof and other safety factors. He also tested for gas with his safety lamp. He must have walked miles during his shift.
2.30pm marked the end of the shift, tools were stowed away safely out of the way of the afternoon shift and the night shift. The afternoon shift carried out roof work, extended the carriageways further into the spaces left by the removed coal and other maintenance tasks. The night shift brought in cutting gear with which they undercut the seam along its whole length, and dropped it to accommodate removal in the morning.
We returned to the shaft bottom, were taken to the surface where we handed in our lamp, collected our token and went to the bathhouse and eventually back to our respective digs. When I looked in a mirror I was alarmed to find that I had two 'black eyes'. The coal dust had penetrated so much into the soft tissue surrounding the eye that it could not be washed away. When, at last, I was released from the mines it took several weeks before my eyes were clean.
On reaching the digs Mrs. Kelleher had a good wholesome hot meal waiting for me. I was exhausted, and was in bed early that evening.
I can honestly say that that first day was the most awful, dirty, backbreaking experience I had ever had, then or since.
I worked each day until the Thursday and took a day off on Friday, going into Aberdare to do some shopping. I returned for the Saturday shift. No one mentioned my absence! How my mate managed on his own I do not know, and did not ask. You will note that the working week was of six shifts.
The second week included my `actual' 19th birthday. I was not feeling too well, with stomach pains, and decided to take that day off. On the Friday, I decided to go home, and returned on the Sunday. After a few more days down the pit, the stomach pains worsened. I visited a local doctor who diagnosed `Gastritis' and signed me on the `sick list'. I was prescribed medicine that was a mixture of kaolin and morphine. (This was to be repeated many many times during the next forty five years until a correct diagnosis was eventually found in 1989 and treated!)
I resumed work in the pit a few days later. However a few days later the stomach pains returned together with vomiting and I felt quite ill, and again had to consult the doctor. He signed me off work again, this time for two weeks.
I had to register this absence with the pit and the Labour Exchange in order to avoid prosecution for prolonged, unreasonable absence. Some Bevin Boys were actually fined and/or imprisoned for absence. There was a lot of absenteeism, and some desertion. Who can blame them?
RIGHTS OR WRONGS?
A Bevin Boy had no rights. He was a civilian, but without the freedom of movement. He was issued with no uniform or insignia from which he could be identified, and as I mentioned earlier, this often led to unkind remarks, such as, "Why are you not in the Armed Forces?". The only leave he was entitled to was one week per year, plus Christmas Day and Boxing Day! He was not allowed to use NAAFI canteens or any of the Volunteer canteens set up for the armed forces. No other facilities were made available to him at all. It all made for very bad feelings on the part of these unfortunate conscripts. This was to continue through to the end of the scheme. When it ended and `demobilisation' came, most took their leave from the agony of working in the pits, in spite of a letter from the newly formed National Coal Board (1st January 1947), appealing to them `to consider favourably remaining in the industry'.
For over forty years, the Bevin Boy received no recognition at all. Even the humble Air Raid Warden was presented with a National Service Medal! Not so the Bevin Boy. Even the British Legion prevented the Bevin Boys' Association, when it was formed, from taking part in the Annual Service of Remembrance in London for nearly fifty years. This was in spite of many high profile attempts to gain recognition of the Bevin Boy in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and also included people such as Lord Rix, CBE, DL, and Sir Jimmy Saville Kt., OBE.,KCSG.,L.LD who were both Bevin Boys.
Years later, Arthur Scargill, the then President of the NUM, speaking on a TV programme `Bevin Boys - Flukes of Fate' called it 'A Monumental Blunder'.
CHAPTER 3. THE LAST DAYS AS A `BEVIN BOY'
For me there were periods of work, followed inevitably by periods of quite severe stomach pain and biliousness. This continued into April when after another serious case of nausea at the shaft bottom, I was taken back up by a first-aider. He was also a union representative. He checked my records and decided that this routine could not continue and that he would make representations to the Ministry of Labour for my case to be reviewed, with the object of my being released from the mining industry. In the meantime I was to be on sick-leave again and await to be examined by a medical tribunal in Pontypridd. This took place and I was certified as "medically unfit for work in the coal mines". I was sent home by the Labour Exchange to await the outcome of their review.
On the 30th April 1945 I was called to attend another full military medical examination board, this time in Gloucester. I was passed as "A1"!
On the 7th May I was released from the mines and was required to return to Deep Duffryn in Mountain Ash to hand in my bits and bobs, hand in my clearance papers and collect my Employment Card. This I did with great relief. I then said my goodbyes to the Keheller family and returned to my home in Gloucester, signed on at the Labour Exchange and requested my BBC job back. And so ended the most traumatic event in my life thus far, and ever since.
THE NEXT DAY, MAY THE 8th 1945 WAS `VE' DAY.
THE END OF THE WAR IN EUROPE.
There was much rejoicing, street parties and huge bon-fires in the streets. King George VI broadcast on the wireless. I went on a Church Parade with the 12th Gloucester Scouts to St Paul's church in the evening, where there was a service of Thanksgiving.
For me the thanksgiving was a double-edged event.
I did not get my job with the BBC back. On the 5th June 1945 I arrived in Carlisle to report to Hadrian's Camp en route to Omagh, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland to begin three and a half years in the Army with the Royal Signals!
THAT is another story!
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