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Bevin Boys - Ernest Bevin 1881 - 1951
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William Alan Brailsford M.B.E - This was my National Service as a conscription BEVIN BOY
Dennis Faulkner - The roadways were unlit, and had a railway line on sleepers in the centre


Contributed by:
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Subject:

William Alan Brailsford M.B.E
10 November 2005
This was my National Service as a conscription BEVIN BOY

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Julie Turner of the ‘Action Desk — Sheffield’ Team on behalf of William Alan Brailsford M.B.E. and has been added to the site with the author’s permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

People in story: William Alan Brailsford M.B.E
Location of story: Handsworth (Sheffield) South Yorkshire
Background to story: Civilian
Article ID: A6850866


When I left High Storrs Grammar School, Sheffield in 1935 I was successful in getting a job - which was difficult in those days - at R Messrs Hadfields Ltd., Steel Manufacturers, famous for manganese steel and world renowned.

I trained as an Accountant and qualified as an Associate of Cost and Works Accountant, by correspondence course and attendance at Sheffield University evening classes.

War clouds were gathering and in 1938, being of a certain age, I was required to register for Military Service and I remember going to the Artillery Barracks in Glossop Road Sheffield to “sign on”, and attending at the Drill Hall near Bramall Lane.

By this time it was realised that war was almost certain and Hadfields, being an obviously vital part of the war machine, was asked (or told) by the Ministry of Aircraft Production to build a factory on a greenfield site to manufacture 500 lb bombs. I was detailed to be responsible for the Capital Expenditure and administration of this project, which was to be located at Swinton, near Rotherham. We worked every hour possible, 7 days a week. Problems, problems but in record time the factory came into production. Steel melting, casting, 5000 ton presses, annealing, machining, hardening, assembly of components. Explosives were dealt with elsewhere.

As a result of this work, I was reserved from being called up. I joined the Local Defence Volunteers (L.D.V.), later to be the Home Guard (Dads Army). I was the only N.C.O. who had not been an ‘Old Sweat’ in the First War. We were ‘E’ Company; our C.O. was a Guards Officer. We were charged with the defence of East Hecla Works, as Hadfields was called.

It was near the time when we were achieving full production at the Swinton factory, that the Ministry told us to close it, I think the bombs were too small.

I volunteered to join the Royal Navy, passing both the medical and quite searching mental written examination, and was recommended for the Officers’ Training Course.

I wanted to be called up. It was 1943 and Ernest Bevin, who was Minister of Labour, needed more manpower in the coalmines. He decided that anyone being called up with a number 9 at the end of their registration number would be directed down a coalmine as their compulsory National Service.

I was convinced that I was in the Navy, but to my horror, I received Bevin's invitation, against which I actively objected, attending a tribunal in Leeds — result, I was directed down a coalmine. I was a Bevin Boy.

Training took place at Woodhouse, near Sheffield, where I suppose some 50 of us were instructed in the running of a colliery safety measure, duties, and responsibilities. Physical Training was a regular part of the course and I remember being ‘matched’ with Alan Brown in the boxing sessions. We were both over 6ft tall — he was manager/coach of a Professional Football Club, Sunderland I think, and obviously pretty fit. I had all on to stop him killing me in the boxing. I was much better in the Cross Country runs where we ran together and had interesting chats on the way round.

After some 6 weeks we were fully trained coalminers and I was allocated to the Nunnery Colliery in Handsworth, South Yorkshire which meant I could live at home. Many of the lads were allocated to Bettshomger Colliery in Kent.

My first job was to chip cement off some old bricks and to dismantle a wall (on the surface). My colleague thought this was a great job. Shortly afterwards I was transferred to work on haulage in a drift mine (running straight down into the ground) extracting a high grade coal from the Furnace Seam. All the coal was processed through a coking plant at Orgreave, producing valuable bi-products, besides, coke, tar, natha, petrol, gas.

The drift mine, as it ran straight into the hill side, and being relatively near the surface, was very wet. Often, water would be pouring from the roof; we wore waterproofs, got pretty wet and we became very tired ploughing through the deep mud with our huge safety boots. The smell was disgusting — sulphurated hydrogen — bad egg smell and I can still recall it when thinking about it. The seam was only 1ft 9ins. So much of our work was ripping and removing the overburden. This grey material was razor sharp when shattered and removed but became a soft shale very quickly when exposed to the outside atmosphere. We hauled the coal and rock to the surface with a very old, worn compressed air donkey engine.

Signals were given by one ring to stop, two to go, on a bell system. The ground was very unstable and the roof would come under pressure causing great problems.

The person in charge of operations, the deputy, may have been good at his job, but like so many of the managers, was blunt in conversation, and the continuous use of bad language was accepted as the only way of making English understandable.

After some time on the Furnace seam, I was transferred to a deep mine in the same District, the Handsworth and Flocton seams.

The shaft had been sunk around 1880 and coal had been extracted in such a way as to leave a block under Sheffield to avoid subsidence. Consequently, the working faces were becoming a long way from the pit bottom and it would take an hour to walk along the roadways to the coal fact. As the seam was on a decline it became hotter and hotter and we shed out clothing as we went. A large bottle of cold tea was like champagne and I soon learned that if I did not have a snap tin, I would have no grub. The first time I put my sandwiches in my pocket, the rats ate them and my pocket while I was away working.

At this time, I was allocated to work on haulage with the aid of a pit pony for the motive power; a wonderful animal with tremendous power. The stables underground were very well run, the ponies well looked after and the many rats were well fed too.

Haulage of coal and overburden to the pit bottom was a tortuous business, reasonably carried out with the pit pony on the more level areas. All the time, I was bedevilled by being 6ft tall and my safety helmet worked overtime, and often I thought my head was being pushed down into my body. My pony would pull 6 or more tubs, each holding 10 cwts (hundredweights - 1 cwt = 112 pounds or 50KG).

My next job was haulage with the use of compressed air engines in a very uneven location where the roadways were up steep inclines and valleys, due to the numerous faults. The tubs in line would be set off from the loader and down a roadway into the darkness with a great rumble. Frequently, a ‘stopper’ would be put in the wheel to retard the speed. After a short time, an even greater rumble would be heard as the line of tubs would come off the rails and finish in a confused mass of tubs and coal or rock. The delays caused by having to rectify the situation were many, and I used to complain to the deputy (the boss) about the complete inefficiency of the workings.

I had now progressed from having a Davy Safety Lamp, which on occasion went out — a worrying situation when working alone, to an electric lamp with the battery on my belt and the light on the safety helmet.

During my service underground, I worked on most of the jobs. Ripping with a hydraulic ‘digger’ to removing rock, coal getting and loading. We had no machinery as is now available, the only mechanical aid was a conveyor belt. The roof conditions varied considerably from stable rock formations, where holding up the roof was relatively easy to faulty rock which required steel arches in the roadways with shuttering. When moving a coal face forward, the coal would be removed and the overburden put in the ‘GOB’, virtually building a block wall behind as we progressed. This held up the roof. Pit props were also used. If the appropriate supports were not put in position, the pressure would “come on” and reduce the height, probably causing more ripping to be done.

The Deputy gave me the opportunity to carry out some of his duties — I helped with shot firing and some surveying — I even carried the caged canary used to identify gas (fire damp). Fortunately the canary never keeled over whilst in my care.

Ventilation was a problem. In one location, air was fed to the working area along a canvas pipe about a foot in diameter. In other places, a great wind would be blowing, interrupted in various places by large rubber doors.

Accidents were frequently suffered but during my time, there were no major falls. Absenteeism was a major headache and I do not think there were any working weeks when one or more of the team was not off sick or injured. I am pleased to say I never missed a shift over nearly 4 years, despite the fact that I could not say I enjoyed the work. There were no pit head baths and I would go home straight from the mine as we all did.

At one stage I was so frustrated by the interruptions caused by inefficiencies, that I asked the Deputy to arrange for me to see the Managing Director of the Company. It was not Nationalised at that time.

He thought this was most unusual, but I insisted and eventually was invited to see
Mr. Ditcher, the M.D. at the Head Office at Nether Edge. I took the opportunity of asking him when he had last been down the mine. Had he any idea at all of the low level of efficiency etc.? He spared me nearly an hour — a most interesting conversation, and no doubt one of the most unusual interviews that either of us ever had. I realised that the put was an old one and little could be done to really improve things. I thought the event was worthwhile as a fact reporting mission. As I recall, the only result of my interview was to be invited to a cocktail party of the mine officials. A Bevin Boy on parade!!

Maybe it also resulted in being asked to help in the wages department, as the manager had had a nervous breakdown.

This gave me an opportunity to meet many of the miners. They were a great lot, particularly underground. They would risk their lives for their mates. They tended to live from day to day, and if they had any money left at the weekend, they would be hard pressed to turn up on Monday. Very many would ask for a ‘sub’ every week, which had to be deducted from the next week's age — only for them to ask for another. Some would ask for a spare wage packet so that their wife would not be aware of their total earnings.

A coal allowance was available to married men and 2/6 a week was deducted for a load of coal. They purchased safety boots paying a few coppers a week by deduction from wages.

My wages over nearly 4 years were £5.00. per week except when on a few occasions I stood in for someone who would be paid overtime or some allowance according to the job.

I gave my notice in every week but it was rejected until eventually I was formally released from my National Service in 1947.

I had made friends with some of the miners who would invite me to their homes — small back to back terrace houses, spotlessly clean, as far as was possible in a mining area. The Yorkshire Range would have the brasses highly polished and the fire would be roaring up the chimney even in summer. Hot water was required for the bath in the Tin Bath on the hearth. Outside many houses would be a load of coal, the cellar being full.

On leaving, the miners gave me a party — that is a drinking session. It was with some trepidation that I went along, knowing how these fellows could drink — 8 pints on Saturday lunchtime and “we’ll go out and really have some tonight”.

However, the session at the Greyhound at Attercliffe and another pub, the name of which I cannot recall, went off successfully, although I must admit I could not manage to read the destination board on the tramcars, so I walked all the way home to Broomhill.

This period in the mines was a relatively isolated one for me, as friends of my age had left the area and were in all parts of the world on active service. Some consolation was had from being Hon. Secretary of the Sheffield Rover Scouts which at the end of the War numbered 1,200. Every month, a printed magazine was compiled by the District Commissioner (Gibby) in which I assisted. It was sent around the world to each of the Rover Scouts, and kept them in touch with home. Their stories form part of the magazine called ‘SLABS’(Sheffield Local Association of Boy Scouts).

This was my National Service as a conscription BEVIN BOY — an experience I would not have had or chosen except for the war — and never a medal in sight.

20/10/92.



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Contributed by:
Sent:
Subject:

Dennis Faulkner
21 November 2005
The roadways were unlit, and had a railway line on sleepers in the centre

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Stan Tate. This user did not write any autobiographical information about him/herself while the site was active. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

Contributed by J Roger Marsh of the actiondesksheffield
People in story: Dennis Faulkner
Location of story: Mountain Ash
Article ID: A7158936


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!


Pit Terminology - Glossary