- Contributed by
- Elizabeth Lister
- People in story:
- Morris Pearce
- Location of story:
- Sherborne, Berks and Askern Colliery, Doncaster
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 26 November 2005
How I became a Bevin Boy
In December 1943 the British Government realized that there was only three weeks supply of coal left in the country. Many of the miners had been called up for national service. The Government had not had the foresight to make mining a reserved occupation. (A reserved occupation was one which was considered so essential that those involved could not be spared for military service). The Minister for Labour, Ernest Bevin, realized that 50,000 men would be needed to work the coalfields and he devised a plan whereby some conscripts would be sent to the mines instead of military service. These ‘Bevin Boys’ were selected by the final digit of their national service registration; those ending in 0 or 9, which included my own, were to be trained as miners.
I was then living in Sherborne, Berkshire. Men were conscripted at 18 but by volunteering between the ages of seventeen-and-a-half and eighteen it was possible to volunteer and have a say in which service one joined. I did this with the intention of joining the Royal Marines. Unknown to me, because of the last digit of my national service number, I had already been selected for mining duty. As I really wanted to join the Royal Marines, I tried to get out of mining on medical grounds by claiming to be acutely claustrophobic. Unfortunately, when I went to my appeal, there were 24 other ‘acute claustrophobics’ present, so this ploy did not work and I was sent to Askern Colliery for one months training. I worked in the mines for three-and-a-half years, sometimes at a depth of a thousand feet. After the war, many of the miners did not want to go down the mines again, and moved into other occupations. Therefore, we conscripts had to continue this occupation after the other services had been demobbed.
Many people are not aware of the sacrifices made by the ‘Bevin Boys’. There were many deaths and injuries in the mines but we did not get any acknowledgement from the general public (or officially) for our contribution to the war effort. Often, we received verbal abuse or were spat at in the street and asked, ‘Why are you not in uniform?’
I am very proud to say that we are now officially recognised as WWII veterans and are represented at the Cenotaph. It has now been acknowledged that the Bevin Boys are entitle to three service medals, namely, the National Service Medal, the General Service Cross and the Restoration of Peace Medal. However, many Bevin Boys do not wear their medals as, unlike those in military service, we were told we had to purchase ours.
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