Bevin Boys

 

 
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Fred Staples receives "Bevin Boy" Medal

At the beginning of the war the Government, underestimating the value of experienced coal-miners, conscripted them into the armed forces. By mid-1943 the coal mines had lost 36,000 workers, and these workers were generally not replaced due to the availability of cleaner work. It became evident that the miners needed to be replaced. The government made a plea to men liable to conscription to offer to work in the mines, but few offered and the shortage continued.

When December arrived and Britain was becoming desperate for a continued supply of coal for both the war effort and a winter at home, it was decided that a percentage of conscripts would be directed to the mines. The colloquial name "Bevin Boys" came from the speech Bevin made announcing the scheme:

Selection of conscripts
To make the process random, one of Bevin's secretaries would each week pull a digit from a hat containing all ten digits, 0-9, and all men liable for call-up that week whose National Service number ended in that digit were directed to work in the mines, with the exception of any selected for highly skilled war work such as flying planes and in submarines. Conscripts came from different professions, from desk work to heavy labour, and included those who might otherwise have become commissioned officers.
Consequently, on the 14th December 1943, the first of 33 fortnightly ballot draws took place with the last draw being cancelled due to the end of the war with Germany.

The scheme ran between 1943 and 1948 and involved recruiting men aged between 18 and 25 years to carry out this work rather than serve in the armed forces. Some 48,000 men were either conscripted or volunteered under the scheme.
This worked out to approximately one in ten of the selected young men called up. This caused a great deal of upset as the many of the young men wanted to join the fighting forces and many felt that they were not valued. Even after the war ended when the majority of the servicemen returned home, these young men continued in the mines until 1948.

fred
medal


Fred Staples who lives in Cambridge Way, was aged 18 when he was conscripted to work down the Rossington mine in Yorkshire.

Fred was given 6 weeks of training before working down the mine. The work was typical coal mining, largely a mile or more down dark, dank tunnels, and conscripts were supplied with helmets and steel-capped safety boots. Bevin Boys did not wear uniforms or badges, but the oldest clothes they could find. There wasn't much high-tech mechanisation in those days, so it was all down to the pick and shovel and hard physical labour.

Never having strayed far from the village before the war, it was very daunting to suddenly find yourself one and a quarter miles underground in a mineshaft with the air filled with acrid coal dust and appalling working conditions.
Rossington employed some 3,000 workers and the working coal face was 5 miles from the exit of the mine shaft. The coal was transported from the coal face to the winding gear by means of ropes and buckets a far cry from todays mechanised conveyor belt.

During 1944, the residents of the two parishes donated to a "Bures Welcome Home Fund" which raised funds to give to the servicemen on their return home from the war. A token of the villagers gratitude for what they had endured whilst conscripted.
A sum totalling £1005 was raised, but the Bevin Boys were specifically excluded from receiving any benefit from this collection.

fred and Neil

During 1992 Fred was approached by British Coal and asked if he would like a return visit to the mine.
Fred took up this invitation and with the help of his son Neil, once again travelled underground.

How times had changed, the 3,000 men employed during the war had decreased to 500 and the output of the mine had risen by 300%.

Miniature boots made out of Rossington coal.

In June 2007 the Prime Minister announced that the Government would introduce a medal to formally recognise the contribution made by the Bevin Boys who worked in the UK coalfields during and immediately after World War II.

In recognition of this work, Fred received his medal early in September 2008, which now proudly sits on his mantelpiece.

There has been no response on the web site, asking if any other Bevin Boys live in the village.
Possibly, Fred may be the only village born ex-miner in the parish.

He also joins the ranks of the famous, such as Jimmy Savile, Brian Rix and Eric Morecambe.


Alan Beales Sept 2008