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Memories of a Bevin-Boy, My First Days in the Mines.

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Gordon Rayner, Gordon King
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
14 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Claire Marrill from West Sussex, on behalf of Gordon Rayner and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr. Rayner fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

Being in restricted occupation, as an apprenctice engineer, I was disappointed to learn that I was unable to join any of the armed forces. However, just as I turned 21, I was ordered to go and work in the coal mines. I left my home in Sussex to go to Yorkshire, to a coal mine called Hickelton Main, which has a well known brass-band.

On my first day I reported to work and was paired off with another Bevin-boy, also called Gordon, 'Ginger' to his friends. The first thing to do was find some lodgings. We were given two addresses to go to, but when we arrived we discovered we were too late, some other boys had got their first. I looked at my new friend, he said to me, "what happens now?"
"We'll toss a coin, " I replied, "heads we go back for more addresses, tails, we disappear!!"
Just at that moment a little boy ran up to us, saying "Mummy says you could stay with us, if you don't mind sharing a double-bed?!"

The choice was made, and so we ended up with a Yorkshire family, born and bred. They took us in and we soon became part of the family. The father, and our landlord, Dick, who had worked down the mines all his life, decided to help us understand the workings of a coal mine.

The next morning, Dick asked us, with his thick dialect, "Are thee happy wit thy sen?"
Ginger looked at me, puzzled. Equally blank, I looked at Dick, "Pardon?" I said.
He laughed, and said he would translate, "it means 'how are you?'!!" We all laughed together, breaking barriers and drawing us closer together.

Once we all arrived at the mine, ready to start work, Dick handed us over to the Foreman. We waited anxiously, inexperieced and nervous. There were about 30 of us in total, not one of us had ever been down a mine before, so you can only imagine how we were all feeling!

The Foreman showed us all how to get safely into the cage, or elevator that would carry us down into the darkness of the pit, the same cage that lifted the coal back out. Dick had previously showed Ginger and myself how to stand in the cage, "Bend ya knees slightly", he had wisely instructed.

As we walked into cage with the other boys and waited for it to start the drop drop, little did we know, the winders, or cage-operators, had decided to have a little fun at out expense! I held my breath as the cage began to drop, my stomach feeling like it was going to come out of my mouth. As we reached the bottom, the winder suddenly stopped the cage and started to drop us, two feet at a time, four times until we landed! Ginger and me were the only ones standing thanks to Dick's advice!

Later, we came to marvel at the skill of these winders as they carefully and precisely lifted the coal from the pit bottom. I'll never forget Dick and his family, the kindness that they showed to us helped me to get through those first tremulous days in the mines.

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