The Government Took Over the Running of the Pits in Wartime
as it Had Done in the First World War
John Burgess (6153) (pictured aged 19 third from the left on the backrow in 1944 aged 82 in 2007, (d 2012) was one such recruit in this area 1944-1947 who stayed in the industry. He originated from Winchester and did his training at Creswell, worked at Annesley Colliery pony ganging to start with, then followed a management career, taking exams in mining and obtained a First Class Certificate of Competency (Manager’s Certificate) and was promoted to Undermanager at Bentinck Colliery, transferred back to Annesley as Undermanager, promoted to Deputy Manager Silverhill, temporary Manager at Teversal, promoted to Manager at Sutton then General Manager Harworth Colliery, a position he held for 13 years. He became national chairman for the Bevin Boy’s Association.
Colin Wells (6005) bottom left in the photo also a Bevin Boy, started work as a linesman for the Surveyor at Annesley, became a ripper there whilst studying for his Manager’s Certificate then became an Undermanager at Pleasley before being promoted to Manager, firstly at Shirland Colliery and latterly Silverhill where he is seen here pouring beer for a team of men who had broken a face output record at the pit.
Jim Hewitson (5278) did likewise in Lancashire and became Manager at Rufford then Safety Engineer at North Nottinghamshire Area HQ, Edwinstowe before transferring to Industrial Relations department in South Nottinghamshire Area at Bestwood HQ.
Frank Haynes was another ‘Bevin Boy’ miner who became an NUM official and later Labour MP for Ashfield.
Frank Gearing a Bevin Boy from the London area was allotted to Silverhill Colliery on haulage duties from 1944 to 1946 when he transferred to the Surveyor’s underground lining staff. In 1951 he joined the Staff Superannuation Scheme and became an Assistant Surveyor at Silverhill then transferred to No4 Area HQ Planning department at Huthwaite for a short time before leaving the NCB in 1960 to join Tarmac, the civil engineering firm where he was involved with the underground tunnelling work for the Bala Dam hydro-electricity scheme in Wales, eventually reaching the position of Area Manager with the firm in the North East of England.
John Berry, second from right in the photo was also a Bevin boy and he held several management positions as Undermanager, Manager, Group Manager, Chief Mining Engineer in Scotland before being appointed to the position of Deputy Director in North Nottinghamshire Area at Edwinstowe.
More famous conscripts were (Lord) Brian Rix, actor, Eric Morecombe (Barthlomew), comedian, Jimmy Saville (now disgraced entertainer and broadcaster), to name a few.
An attendance bonus was introduced whereby anyone working the full 5 shifts was paid for 6 shifts. Surface workers were to work 42½ hours (exclusive of meal times) to be worked in 5 consecutive shifts of 8½ hours. Overtime rates were increased to time and a half. The period of weekend work for double time was increased from 24 to 32 hours.
War bonuses were paid periodically. Pay as you earn (PAYE) income tax was introduced from 6th April 1944.
In September 1944 the Government set up a Technical Advisory Committee on coal mining under the chairmanship of Charles C Reid ‘to examine the present techniques of coal production from coal face to wagon and to advise on what technical changes were necessary in order to bring the industry to a state of full technical efficiency’.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was formed in November 1944 from the amalgamation of all 36 County unions in the country. Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire had Branches of the new NUM.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) took over from the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain (MFGB) on 1st January 1945 with 21 separate Area organisations. Banners, beautifully worked in silk would be made later for all Lodges and paraded at all demonstrations and fêtes.
In January 1945 food allowances were still strict. 4oz bacon per person per week, 2oz tea, 8oz sugar, 8oz fats, 3oz cheese, meat to the value 1s 2d (5¾p), 2 pints of milk.
By March the milk ration was increased to 2½ pints. However at the beginning of May there was a reduction in the bacon ration and clothes coupons were reduced to 48.
Regulations for Training, 1945
The 5th Porter award brought in ‘overtime payments’ for weekend work and overtime at the rate of double and one and one third rates the normal rates respectively. Weekend work was to be all work at the start of Saturday afternoon shift ending with the start of the Sunday afternoon shift. Work during the 6 Bank holidays. In the case of Piece-workers the extra remuneration is to be based on the actual gross earnings etc.
The Nationalisation Act Was Passed In July 1946
However the NCB did not acquire any of the former Copyholder’s interests in coal or mines of coal. The coalmines were bankrupt under private ownership. The pits, which had given profits for the owners in the past, now had an abysmal efficiency and safety record and equipment was out of date. Many collieries would have to close and the larger more efficient ones would have to have major reconstruction projects, costing millions.
Coal Mining (Training and Medical Examination) Order 1944 and the Coal Mines Act 1911, General Regulations were enforced. Training Centres were set up throughout the country including the East Midlands Division. Locally at Mansfield Colliery, Silverhill Colliery, and Bentinck and Hucknall. Over 18 year olds had to do 3 weeks training and adults aged 21 plus or re-entrants now had to undergo 3 weeks training, previously 1 week. Boy trainees aged 15 to 18 had to achieve 264 hours of study in 16 weeks, of which 132 hours had to be on mining operations, including a minimum of 66 hours underground plus 20 days close personal supervision upon starting a job. Two days a week were spent at the local Technical College to gain practical experience in engineering and theory of science and mining subjects. Underground visits to working coalfaces were also arranged as well as practical experience on the hand filled training face where coal filling, setting props and bars, packing and turning over conveyor belting was done. Haulage work with endless rope and clips and pony ganging were also taught. A practical course in first aid by SJAB personnel completed the training period. Examinations and oral tests in all subjects at the end resulted in a ceremony to present prizes and receive certificates from some high dignitary.
General Election in July 1945 and the Labour Party was returned to power with a majority of 140 over all other parties. Clement Attlee continued as Prime Minister. He commissioned Sir William Beveridge to submit a report on the 5 giants of the period. These were Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.
The Chairman of the Mining Association Robert Foot stated that the colliery owners thought private enterprise was the right basis for efficient production in the nation’s interest.
Mr Arthur Horner was appointed by the NUM to be National Production Officer, to increase production of coal by any means possible.
Absenteeism From All Causes Was Rising And Was Causing Concern.
Control of labour ended on 20th December 1945.
Bread rationing was enforced by the Labour Government from 21st July 1946. Each adult was granted 9oz of bread or flour, but some manual workers including mineworkers were allowed 15oz and extra portions of meat and cheese and bread. The meat ration though was increased by 2d (just over ¾p) a week!
Orderly queues used to form outside shops for their rations.
The Nationalisation Act was passed in July 1946, and on ‘Vesting Day’ 1st January 1947 the mines were nationalised. From that day on, some 960 deep mines plus around 400 licensed mines were managed by the National Coal Board (NCB), with Headquarters in London based at Lansbury House then later at Hobart House under the Chairmanship of Viscount Hyndley, who had been appointed in July 1946.
The holiday pay for 1946 and 1947 was Adults £6 0s 0d (£6.00), 18 to 20 years £4 10s 0d (£4.50). Under 18 years of age £3 12s 0d (£3.60) for the one week holiday.
The first payment for statutory holidays was paid from August 1946. The rate per shift was 20s (£1) for adults 16s (80p) for 18 to 20 years 12s (60p) for those under 18.
From 1st January 1947 the familiar blue and white flag was flown from flagpoles on offices and headgears of most of the pits throughout the country. The 120 mines in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire came under the East Midlands Division Headquarters Board of the National Coal Board, based at Sherwood Lodge, near Arnold.
Many collieries had a small inaugural ceremony to hoist the flag with the famous statement “This colliery is now owned by the people, worked by the people on behalf of the people” Emmanuel (Manny) Shinwell, Minister of Fuel attended one such ceremony on behalf of the Government. This heralded the change of ownership. The Labour Party tried to convince the miners’ leaders that after struggling for generations under terrible conditions the new deal would put an end to it. The hated capitalist colliery owners (over 800) with their Directors had been bought out by the Government, but many of the miners were suspicious of their ‘new bosses’ because practically all of the mines were managed by the same people as before!
The heaviest snow fall for many years was on 6 - 7th January 1947, it was up to 4 feet (1.2m) deep. Many roads and railway lines were blocked in the region.
During the week ending 15th January 1947 there had been frost, snow and fog, but the weather did not deter the Nottinghamshire miners, whose attendance and output was at the best levels possible for the time, being newly nationalised.
The big freeze began on 23rd January 1947 and was to last for many weeks, in fact 57 nights of continuous frost was registered around Woodthorpe, Nottingham by March. Large snowfalls were experienced and many places ground to a halt. By 29th January there were power cuts and chaos. On 12th February there were heavy snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures that combined to bring serious fuel shortages. There were power cuts and coal trains were unable to get through and the stockpiles of coal were frozen solid and impossible to load out with the equipment on hand …. pick and shovel. It was not a good start for the newly nationalised industry.
From 1st April 1947 the NCB took over the responsibility for recruitment and because the school leaving age was to be raised to 15 the recruitment drive was open to Poles who were in the country either exiled or ex-servicemen and many were attracted to the local pits. It was thought that now the Bevin Boys would be ‘demobbed’ like the forces and allowed to return home but it was slow in coming and many would not be released until 1948 and some even into 1949.
The Education Act of 1947 raised the school leaving age to 15 from August 1947.
Day-wage Agreement of December 1947, however the increased rate was not to total more than 19s 10d (99p) a shift exclusive of the War addition plus the skilled shilling (5p) where payable. The surface rate was not to be more than 18s 2d (90¾p) a shift similarly.
Around this time or just prior to nationalisation some companies issued cap lamps with a much better brighter light, powered by batteries that were carried on one’s belt to replace the hand held ones that were heavy and clumsy and with poor illumination.
The promised 5-day week was not possible because of the need to produce coal as a crisis loomed, particularly due to vanishing exports.
Absenteeism continued to be a big factor. The Bevin boys were badly treated for being absent and had to give a valid reason as they were conscripts as one in the forces and to be AWOL or absent without leave one was threatened with a gaol sentence if they continued, whereas the ordinary miner hardly ever had to give an excuse for being absent.
There was overall a wide range of jobs done in a pit and it varied pit by pit and region to region.
A few of the Bevin Boys unfortunately lost their lives in accidents in the pits and many sustained injuries. It was a dangerous occupation and it seemed to be an accepted fact that throughout the country somebody would be killed in a pit every day.
To add insult to injury the Bevin Boys were never acknowledged until 1993 for their part in the victory in the Second World War by helping to produce vital coal supplies that were needed.