From December 1943 until the end of the war, 48,000 Bevin Boys were directed to work in the coal mines. Bevin Boys represented 10% of male conscripts aged between 18 and 25 during the Second World War and were chosen by ballot to serve in the mining industry rather than in the armed services. They were named after the Rt Hon Ernest Bevin, the wartime Minister of Labour and former leader of the Transport and General Workers Union.
The mining work was not popular either with the miners or the boys themselves, many of whom had no mining background at all. The Bevin Boys received no medal, badge or uniform and little recognition at the time or afterwards. Many were not released from their war work until several years after the war had ended.
Background and Selection Process
When war was declared against Germany in September 1939, the British Government made the mistake of allowing experienced coal miners to be called up into the armed services, either as reservists or as conscripts. Miners were also allowed to transfer into other higher paid industries. It was thought at the time, that the gaps in the coal mining industry would be replaced by previously unemployed men and by making the industry the subject of a reserved occupation for key workers.
But by mid-1943, over 36,000 coal miners had left the industry for better paid work. The British Government decided it needed 40,000 more miners. Despite asking service men and conscripts to opt for this reserved occupation, little impact was made on the numbers needed. In September 1943 an appeal was made to Head Teachers of relevant schools but this was largely ignored. In consequence in December 1943 Ernest Bevin masterminded a scheme whereby a ballot took place to put a proportion of conscripted men into the mines instead of the armed services. The only exceptions were men accepted for flying duties in the RAF or Fleet Air Arm, men accepted for work in submarines and men on a shortlist of highly skilled occupations required for armed service trades.
The ballot consisted of Mr Bevin's secretary each month placing 10 digits into a hat and, for a period of approximately 20 months, two of these numbers were drawn out. All men whose National Service Registration Number ended with that digit were directed into coal mining without exception. Any refusal to comply with the direction would inevitably result in a heavy fine or possible imprisonment under the wartime Emergency Powers Act.
Not all Bevin Boys were ballotees, as men had the opportunity at the time of call-up of choosing this form of employment in lieu of service in the armed services, and were so classified as Optants or Volunteers. There were suggestions that Bevin Boys were placed in the coal mines as conscientious objectors. However this was largely untrue since there were only 41 conscientious objectors out of the total of 47,859 Bevin Boys.
After medical examinations, travel warrants and instructions quickly followed to report to one of the thirteen Government Training Centre Collieries in England, Scotland and Wales. Upon arrival at the assigned destination, a Ministry of Labour official would be waiting to allocate accommodation in either a purpose built Miners Hostel similar to an army camp or in billets, at a cost of 25 shillings per week deducted out of an average wage of three pounds, ten shillings. Training for Bevin Boys serving in Scotland took place at the Government Training Centre Colliery at Muircockhall in Fife, with accommodation at the Miners Hostel at Townhill.
Training would last for a duration of four weeks and take the form of 25% physical training, 25% classroom lectures, 20% surface work and 30% underground. At the end of this period, final allocation would be made to a colliery normally within the region where the training had taken place.
Living and Working
On arrival at the assigned pit, accommodation would be either in a hostel or private billets a