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Bevin Boys - Ernest Bevin 1881 - 1951
Bevin Boy's Emails, Page 10
Contact Bevin Boys Association

Taken from the BBC's Archive of WW2 memories 
Written by the public, gathered by the BBC - See Copyright




Market Harborough Royal British Legion - What did you do in the War, Daddy?
Stuart Baird
- Those left behind: the miners
Stan Tate
- Coalmine Conscript (Bevin Boy 1944 - 1947)


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Stan Tate
03 January 2006
Coalmine Conscript (Bevin Boy 1944 - 1947)

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 stan tate
People in story: William Stanley Tate, Peter French
Location of story: Houghton le Spring, County Durham
Background to story: Civilian Force
Article ID: A8222906


Sixty years ago, with the world at war, when young men like me came of age they expected to serve King and Country in the armed services — not to end up down a coal mine.

During 1943 there was a worsening crisis in the coal mines. Demand for coal was rising and production falling. Many miners had left the industry to join the armed forces earlier in the war, and few were prepared to return. Various schemes were introduced to increase manpower, without much success, until, at the end of 1943, the Government decided to divert conscripts into the mines. 10% (initially 20%) of all conscripts would go into the mines. 22,000 men in all were eventually chosen by selection of those whose registration numbers ended in zero. They became known as ‘Bevin Boys’ after the then Minister of Labour and National Service, Ernest Bevin.

On 11 November 1943, just before my 18th birthday, I had my medical and interview for the armed forces. At the conscription office on City Road, Newcastle, I opted for the Royal Navy and was issued with a registration number: 10550. I was told I would most likely be off to war, or at least training for it, by Christmas - my mother cried, I will always remember that. I was waiting for my papers when the Ministry of Labour announced the scheme. Within a few days, I received the dreaded news that I had been among the first to be ‘balloted’. I appealed, as did so many others, but I don’t know anyone who was successful. I tried everything, even arguing that, at over 6 ft, I was too tall to go underground, but to no avail. I either went down the mines or I went to jail. I thought it was the end of the world.

After four weeks’ training at Annfield Plain, I was sent to Houghton le Spring Colliery, where I started on 6 June 1944, D-Day. After working on the surface for two weeks, I went underground to work on a large haulage landing about a mile from the pit bottom, about 600ft below ground. No prospect of medals, not even a sight of the enemy, for me.

It was a tremendous shock, both physically and mentally. I at least lived in a mining area but I found myself alongside a farm hand from Cumbria and Peter French, a commercial artist from Essex. Although it broke my heart at the time, looking back I feel on balance it did me more good than service in the Navy. It made me realise what hard work was all about and let me see ‘the other side of the coin’. More importantly, it made me focus on what I was going to do in life and, towards the latter part of my service, I got down to my accountancy studies. I worked five or six 7½hr shifts plus 10 minutes ‘winding time’ and was studying for a minimum of 20hrs a week. How I managed such a burden and still, I recall, seemed to lead a normal life, I cannot now understand.

As Houghton le Spring was my home town, hostel accommodation was, very fortunately, not required but conditions underground were not pleasant. There was a minimum of clothing and a lot of sweating; I can clearly remember, on two or three occasions, sweat got into my eyes and my mouth. But I gradually adapted to the surroundings and the various work tasks. I learned to live with a black face and in a foul atmosphere, with the constant smell of ‘powder reek’. I recall, for the first few weeks, I suffered severely from cramp in my legs, but I don’t know the reason for this. There were some compensating factors too - constant temperatures (winter and summer) and, surprisingly, a lot of humour and general bon homie. The humour of the men I worked with then can still crease me up with laughter now.

While I was in the mines, a guaranteed minimum wage was awarded which was £5 per week for those 21 and over, with lower rates, understandably, for those younger. About that time there was an outcry when MPs gave themselves a rise to £500 per year. Our Under Manager, surprisingly, told me his salary - it was £600 per year. Face workers were paid a piecework rate — so much per score of tubs. However, a score was not 20 but 21. The extra tub was said to cover the cost of free coal to the miners and their rent allowance/free house. By local agreement, the piecework rate was one shilling (5p) per 8cwt of coal filled. A full tub weighed 13 cwt altogether, including 8 cwt of coal.

There was a throughput of 600-700 full (13 cwt) tubs of coal on each of three shifts and an equal number of empty (5 cwt) tubs going the other way. All of these had to be either coupled or uncoupled. Safety rules were often not practical for quick working and were ignored. You gradually got to know, often the hard way, where real caution was required.

I remember the ever-present dangers. Bruisings and scrapes were commonplace but during my 3½yr service there were three fatalities, as well as many serious accidents amongst the 1,000 or so employees. Just before my release, I almost became the fourth. I was riding into the mine in an empty tub and the part of the 72-tub set that I was in overturned sideways (into guide rails, rollers and props). I couldn’t get out of the tub in the few seconds that I had. By almost superhuman endeavour, pressing hard with my feet, I was able miraculously to keep within the tub. Otherwise, I would have been torn to shreds. Fortunately, 50-100 yds round the curve, one of the tubs bounced upwards and caught a girder. That gave an indication to the main and tail haulage engineman ½ a mile away that something was wrong, and he stopped the set. After I got out of the tub, I realised how unbelievably lucky I had been to survive. I was extremely shaken. The back of my right hand was lacerated, so off I went home. Riding in a tub was strictly forbidden and ironically that was the first (and understandably the last) time I ever did it.

If I had gone into the Navy, I would have been demobbed after about two years, but our release date was linked to the Army, so my service was actually 3½yrs. By then, I just accepted it. I thought about a work colleague who had volunteered for the Air Force as air crew. He lost his life on his fifth trip, just a little after his 20th birthday.

It was in October 1947 that I was released and returned to my previous employment in a chartered accountants’ office. Shortly after, I obtained my qualifications and eventually became a partner in the small Newcastle office. The firm, RMT, is still there in Newcastle but at least 60 times larger than when I joined.

The Bevin Boys Association was formed about ten years ago and I attend the twice-yearly reunions with great pleasure. It was through the Association that I made contact again with Peter French and other conscripts briefly located at the same colliery. I walked with them past the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Day with enormous pride in our shared experience.



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Stuart Baird
03 January 2006
Those left behind: the miners

This story was submitted to the People’s War site and has been added to the site with the author’s permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
I am researching my grandfather's war. He was a very private man and I know very little other than his regiment and where (via his medals) he served.

He was a tank driver in the Highland Light Infantry. Please get in touch if you have any memories of the HLI, tank/general driving in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Normady.

Contributed by Stuart Baird
People in story: Martin Baird, Wilfred Rowley
Location of story: West Yorkshire and Scotland
Background to story: Civilian
Article ID: A4148174


Both of my grandfathers were miners before the war but while one went away to fight the other was forced to work in the mines.

My father’s dad, Martin Baird, won medals and commendations throughout his time as a tank driver in El Alemein, Sicily, Italy and Normandy but on his return refused to wear his medals out of respect to those who had been forced to work down the pits. He said he didn’t want to ‘boast’ about what he had done while men had worked and died at home.

Martin had been inseparable from his brother George but earlier in 1939 at Upton Colliery, West Yorkshire, George was tragically killed in a roof fall. Martin couldn’t bear to sit at the same table as his family and see the empty seat left by George so he decided to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and join the forces in his home country — Scotland.

He joined the Highland Light Infantry in the middle of 1939 which was promptly ‘mechanised’ and he was trained as a tank driver. None of the family know anything about his war, other than his life was saved in Italy when he was cut off from returning to base to do a recon job by a German bombardment. The driver who went in his place drove over a landmine killing himself and an officer.

He lost some friends in Normandy in a machine gun attack which saw him wounded out of the war.

Back in Yorkshire my maternal grandfather, Wilf Rowley, was a colliery surface worker at Frickley pit. On the outbreak of war, he and a friend decided they would get out of the pit and join up.

They had to run nine miles cross country to the nearest recruiting station — Barnsley — but when the two arrived they were confronted by the pit manager stood by his car, with the recruiting sergeant, pointing out ‘his’ men. My grandfather spent the rest of his life working at Frickley.

There was some resentment from some of the local Bevin Boys and those who were parachuted in to the fill the gaps. While a lot of the locals had tried their hardest to get to fight, some thought others had dodged their duty by volunteering to work at home. In a silent protest about not being able to join the war one man took to wearing an army beret and combat jacket — and continued to do so well into the 1980s.

For those left behind time grinded on very slowly — a highlight was taking a London girl as an evacuee who is still a very close friend of the family.


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Market Harborough Royal British Legion
10 September 2005
What did you do in the War, Daddy?

This story is submitted to the People’s War site by a member of Market Harborough Branch, Royal British Legion on behalf of the widow of the author and has been added to the BBC site with her permission. Mrs Tyler fully fully understands the sites terms and conditions.

Contributed by Market Harborough Royal British Legion
People in story: Ray Tyler; his parents
Location of story: Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; USA
Background to story: Royal Navy
Article ID: A5679417


What did you do in the War, Daddy?

By Ray Tyler

Early in 1940 when I was 16 my Father was called up. He was R.N.R., and so I decided I wanted to join the Navy rather than the other services. I lived in London, but was told if I came to Glasgow there was a job for me as Royal Naval Auxiliary Personnel, so I cycled the 400 miles in four days.

I joined an A.M.C., a well armed large merchant ship for use on convoy work. In the early days I slept in a hammock. It was explained to me that you never fell out of a hammock, which was true, no matter what the weather did. For about three years we escorted convoys across the Atlantic but I think we only used our depth charges on two occasions, and I never saw any sign of a Jerry Sub. When you think of the size of the Atlantic Ocean it must have been really bad luck if you rubbed shoulders with a Jerry Sub, although my mate was lost at sea when his ship (another A.M.C.) was sunk.

One thing we did not get was news from home, except by mail. I don't remember hearing a radio. I believe there was radio silence at sea. This came home to me one day when I received mail from my Mother. Because my Father and I often landed at Glasgow after one of our voyages, my Mother rented a house in Glasgow leaving our real home in London. She wrote and said that our London home had been bombed and everything had been lost. My reply was "Why should Jerry pick on us?" My Mother's reply came explaining about the 1000 bomber raids on London and Coventry. I certainly just didn't know. And I now realise that the same thing applies to so much of the war.

Our pick up points for the convoys were many wonderful towns and cities - St. John and Halifax in Canada, Reykjavik in Iceland, Bermuda, Freetown in Sierra Leone and many others. Usually we went ashore as we did when we arrived in the Clyde, Southampton or the Mersey. Sounds like a world tour, doesn't it?

After leaving the A.M.C., I was sent to Asbury Park in New Jersey not far from New York. I discovered that I was to join a brand new small aircraft-carrier at Portland in Oregon on the other side of America. Then came the BUT - BUT it would not be ready for several months. I had a wonderful time in the States before arriving in Portland. With the help of American Servicemen we stored the ship and sailed away. But not for the Atlantic. We proceeded in the Pacific and sent a shore party on some island to pick up some Vichy French VIPs. as Prisoners of War.

I know no more than that, except that one day I said "bon jour" to one of them. I did speak good French. I was up before the Commander for saying that but I explained that I was only being courteous. The Commander almost shouted "Don't you realise that they are the enemy?"

We came home through the Panama Canal, and finished up in British Waters training pilots to land on small carriers. We had many crashes and some pilots were killed. The thing I hated most was burials at sea.

On one occasion we went to a West African Port, and having a cool room on board, I bought a stem of bananas - several hands. When taking them home to my Mother on the bus I was asked by a small boy "what are they". I explained and asked his mother if he would like one. I gave him one which he tasted - he threw it on the floor and trod on it. He said that he did not like it!!! My mother distributed the remainder to all the neighbours. They had never seen bananas during the war. Those neighbours were at Easington in County Durham where my Father, who had been discharged from the Navy for health reasons, was manager of a Bevin Boys' Hostel.

I was demobbed in March 1946 after 6 years in the Royal Navy. For this they gave me four medals including the Atlantic Star and the Pacific Star.

That is what I did in the War. Not much compared with so many people whom I have met since.



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