The Government Took Over the Running of the Pits in Wartime
as it Had Done in the First World War
Creswell was a major sorting out and training centre, opened in January 1944, catering for up to 520 ‘boys’ at a time. The Bevin boys who lived in or around Mansfield were transported by bus from Mansfield Market Place to Creswell then back to Mansfield after shift end. They started underground training, usually with a big shovel shifting coal. Following the end of about one month’s underground training period or for some several months they were allocated to various other pits to fill vacancies left by enlisted men. Although many had never seen a mine in their lives before, 99% of them settled in to their new life fairly quickly although overall it was found that attendance was poor. The Forest Town hostel housed 500 with a Manager and a staff of 12.
The first of the trained Bevin Boys in the Nottingham area started work at Clifton and Radford pits on 21st Feb 1944. Others would later go to Babbington, Bestwood, Wollaton and Gedling.
Many of the first batches of young men were put up in lodgings with families, close by the pit they had been allocated to whilst special hostels were built in selected areas to accommodate them. Some 22,000 Bevin Boys were recruited overall but there was still a reduction in the coal output.
Roy Dickinson, known as ‘Dicko’, interviewed by Robert Bradley lived in Nottingham and wanted to join the RAF but was conscripted and sent to Creswell to train as a miner in October 1944. He had to go to London Road School, Nottingham for a medical.
Abbot Road Miners' Hostel
After being passed A1 fit he was transported to a Miners’ Hostel at Clowne housing 500 men. For about 6 weeks they did physical training, dressed in shorts and plimsolls. A good English breakfast was provided each morning and a good substantial 3 course meal in the evening. Sandwiches for snap were provided also.
They visited several colliery surfaces to see the types of jobs on offer. He was allotted to Creswell colliery for formal training firstly on the surface on various jobs such as sorting coal on the screens then he was transferred underground but he reckoned they ‘played’ at being a miner there because they were always under the watchful eye of a Training Instructor who would help, but he got a great shock when sent to Gedling to do some proper work, on his own, firstly pony ganging then shovelling on a coal face for £4 a week.
He recalled on one occasion when he lost his pony or ‘donkey’ as he called it. It had wandered off whilst he wasn’t looking, however when he returned to the pit bottom stables to explain he found the pony named Captain stood in his own stall waiting to have its gear removed, so he didn’t report it and carried on as though he had escorted the pony back.
He hated the underground life having previously worked for Kettch and Sons hauliers as a driver and after about a year began to holiday on odd days like some miners did.
Another part of his work was on the haulage underground where he had to clip 4 tubs of coal onto a moving haulage rope with great dexterity otherwise like some who were run down and bruised badly, luckily not too severely. A piece of cardboard was put at the back of the hand lamp so that all the light was projected to the front so that it was easier to see where one was going.
Because he was more fortunate than the others who came from areas of the country not associated with mining and lived far away he lived nearby, and it was easy to slip into Nottingham, eat his snap (sandwiches) on Slab Square, feed the pigeons, walk round then go back home at the recognised knocking off time as though he had been to work.
After a time a letter was sent to his home from the colliery and opened by his mother who was ignorant of his absenteeism. They had to attend Court where his mother pleaded for him as he was unaccustomed to the underground life and it was affecting his nerves and the magistrates were lenient on this occasion, he was let off with a caution and ordered back to work. Of course being conscripted into the mines was like being in the forces and that action would have been classed as AWOL, (absent without leave).
He said he was injured in the pit whilst on haulage work and as soon as he could in early 1947 when they were releasing miners from the pits he left. There must have been hundreds in similar circumstances who just had to ‘grin and bear it’.
A local Bevin Boy, George James Borrill, hailed from Mansfield, born at Bull Farm in March 1926. In a recent interview by Robert Bradley at his home in Rainworth, now aged almost 94 and really strong and healthy he recalled his experiences. His father was a farmer, however when he left school he wanted something different so obtained an errand boy’s job at Marsdens, the grocers, and was soon serving behind the counter.
He left there to practice welding thinking it would be useful for working on the inland oil rigs at Eakring. However the type of welding he learnt was not suitable for the rigs so he joined the riggers who prepared the derricks for boring for oil working alongside a bunch of American Wildcatters. He helped prepare the water ponds that were necessary for drilling and bentonite was added to make a mud flush for the chippings coming out of the boreholes. The well heads when the borehole was completed and oil began to be pumped by the Dancing Bobbies, he termed them. Others would know them as Nodding Donkeys. He received notification to attend to sign on for War service, however he ignored the call assuming that he was doing an important job for the War Effort by working for the D’Arcy Co. Of course he was wrong and it wasn’t long before a policeman was knocking on his door to enquire why he hadn’t been to register. He explained his situation but it was pointed out that should he not get down the office to register as soon as possible he would be facing a gaol sentence in Lincoln Prison. He registered next day and a few days later a letter arrived telling him to attend for an Underground training course at Creswell Colliery for instead of going into the armed forces he had been picked by lottery to work in the pits instead. To start with he was shocked as he didn’t want to work down a pit. He had to catch a bus each morning from Mansfield Market place to Creswell. He was in the first group of Bevin Boys chosen in 1944 and for a few weeks he was introduced to the rudiments of mining then he was allotted to work at Sherwood Colliery, fortunately within walking distance of where he lived. What had been a soft entry to the industry now became real as he was sent with a Dataller on the haulage roads assisting in doing repairs to the rail tracks etc. From there he graduated to a junction in the Dunsil seam where he was shown what to do then left to it and clipped full tubs on a moving steel rope that were being hauled towards the pit bottom and unclipped empty tubs coming into the district from the pit bottom. Then a few months later after only a few minutes instruction as before he was given the job as a pony ganger taking supplies into a district by trams and bringing coal out by tubs. Fortunately the pony he had was a good one and as George said it more or less trained him sooner than the other way round. He had 2 to 3 years on that job before being a collier for about 4 years firstly on 9s coalface in the Dunsil seam where for 5 shifts a week he had a stint of 10 yards long at 2 feet 3 inches of coal plus some floor dirt from the 4 feet 6 inches undercut giving approximately up to 20 tons to be shovelled onto a face conveyor every day, 5 days a week. He was moved to 66s panel in the Top Hard seam which was some 5 feet 6 inches high and found it very strange to be shovelling coal standing up instead of kneeling down like before. His hand was crushed between two wooden props one day when there was a fall of roof and that cost him 7 weeks off work, then he was injured again when a steel prop fell across his ankle. He decided then that enough was enough. He had hated the underground life and knew it was dangerous work at times but did it for the money he said, which was 30 shillings a shift (£1.50) and finally he was able to leave the pit in 1951 and obtained a job as a bus conductor with the Midland General Bus Co.
The Coal Mining (Training and Medical Examination) Order 1944 established the general principle that no one was to be employed in or about a coal mine on work which he had no previous experience, unless under adequate instruction and supervision, until competent to do the work without supervision. The Order also required Training Officers to be appointed to superintend training at collieries and keep records and reports on trainees.
Bulwell (Nottinghamshire) had a pithead restaurant now. However the pit was soon to close in 1945.
Grassmoor (Derbyshire) was the first pit to offer full cooked meals in a canteen.
Of course another major disadvantage at some mines was that there were no pithead baths so that meant travelling from home to work in pit clothes and at the end of the shift travelling back home in their pit muck and having a bath at their lodging.
Blackout restrictions were lifted from 11th November 1944 and the Home Guard was stood down.
Miners who had been required to work over the 2-day Christmas celebrations had been assured that they would receive an extra £1-a-day grant. However an angry pay row evolved when it appeared that the pit bosses had absorbed the grants into the men’s wages so that they were no better off, as stated by the Nottinghamshire and District Miners’ Federated Union at a meeting in Nottingham.
After the celebrations it was back to the drab realities of life as the Minister of Fuel decreed that there was still a serious fuel shortage and that all outdoor decorative and display lighting was to cease.
Many of the pits were now in a terrible condition and production was falling steadily week by week, through one reason or another, not least absenteeism. Restrictions on steel and equipment were taking its toll. However the War had intervened in many new exploits in the mines and some would be closed through lack of development. The coal stocks had fallen to an all-time low and there was a scarcity of certain grades. Throughout the country there had been a drop of domestic consumption of coal. There had been an increase in the use of coke, gas and electricity. The wholesale coal trade organisation was divided into 4 areas and the Midlands area covering Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and others came into effect.
From July 1945 The Coal Mining (Training and Medical Examination) Order 1944 came in, where arrangements were made for medical examination of any young person below 18 entering coal mining.
In March 1945 the Minister of Fuel and Power presented to Parliament the Report of the Technical Advisory Committee on Coal Mining which was known as the Reid Report, after its Chairman, Mr Charles C Reid (later Sir Charles Reid). The committee consisted of 7 members, all mining engineers with experience in the management of collieries etc. The recommendations of the Committee was divided into methods of working coal, including mechanisation, underground transport, health and safety including ventilation, lighting and power supply, shaft winding, colliery layouts, machinery maintenance, training for new entrants, education in the form of explanations by management of new methods and further education at suitable venues to offer advancement in management, and labour relations. Also better manriding facilities (by locomotive), and better tunnelling methods. Surface layouts at mines were also advocated with reconstructions to allow double shift winding.
The report would lead to the ‘Ladder Plan’ which would provide part-time education for young men as apprentice craftsmen and surveyors to create qualified Craftsmen, Surveyors, Under-Officials, Undermanagers and Managers.
Austerity times still reigned. Potatoes were still rationed at 3lb per person per week and also milk at 2½ pints each at 5d (2p) a pint, bacon 1oz a week. Meat and cheese and bread were rationed also. Miners were classified as heavy industry and were entitled to a larger meat ration. A packet of 20 Players cigarettes was 2s 4d (11⅔p) and a pint of bitter beer 1s 4d (6⅔p).
The average wage was around £6 5s 10d (£6.29) a week. From the end of November 1947 the minimum underground rate for adults was £5 15s 0d (£5.75), an increase of 2s 6d (12½p) per week and for surface rate £5 0s 0d (£5.00) per week, an increase of 1s 8d (8⅓p) per week under the Cheese ration was reduced to 1½ oz a week from 27th March.
Milk ration was increased to 3½ pints each from 25th April. Bread and potato rationing ended in July. Jam rationing ended on 5th December 1948.