Saturday, 6 September 2014

Workers Know Your History, The Bevin Boys.

      “The Bevin Boys” are a little known group of young men who were conscripted during the second world war, but didn't wear a uniform.
           At the start of WW2, the government were keen to get as many young men into the forces as possible, so conscription was enforced. They did realise that certain industries were essential to the “war effort” and so those working in those industries were exempt from conscription. However they were so dim they didn't list coal mining as one of those industries, they failed to realise that without coal the other industries would grind to a halt. So they scooped up all the young miners into the forces, then it dawned on them that the coal output was falling. By 1943, the country was running out of coal to keep the factories in full production, the mining work force was sadly depleted and those miners left in the pits miners were old school, strike prone and ageing.
         In December 1943, Ernest Bevin, the minister for labour, devised a ballot scheme, known as the Bevin Ballot Scheme, whereby men aged between 18 and 25, when they registered for National service, could be picked by lottery to work in the mines, they were known as "Bevin Boys". 48,000 young men found themselves working down the coal mines, irrespective of their ambitions, training or experience.
        This of course this meant that the young men were usually billeted in camps, of Nissen huts near the mines, freezing in winter and stifling hot in summer. When Bevin was asked whether young recruits could have a psychological examination to see if they were temperamentally suited to coal mining, his reply was a simple one word reply, “No”.
        Bevin Boys throughout the war, were unfairly seen by many of the public as conscription dodgers, deserters or conscientious objectors. They were labelled cowards and had white feathers given to them or stuck on their clothing. As they were billeted within mining communities, many of whose sons were in the services, they were also seen as likely to stay on and steal their sons jobs. If a Bevin Boy was killed in a mining accident his family received no compensation and those invalided out had no pension. Some were not demobilised until 1948 because the country was still short of coal. Their treatment on most occasions was deplorable. But that is how the state works when it finds the need, in this system, people serve the state, it is never the state serving the people.

From The Telegraph:
     The alternative was prison. "Some Bevin Boys did choose prison," he said. "It was a complete change of life. We worked in the depth of the earth in cramped, damp conditions. Travelling on leave, we were not even allowed a cup of tea on the train because we had no uniform. Some Bevin Boys were much abused because it was thought we had run away from the Services."
     Some of the men were psychologically scarred by their experiences. Maurice Sheppard, of Durham, recalled: "In 11 months in the mines I lost three stone in weight. I was sent home to see a specialist and diagnosed with 'inward claustrophobia'."
      He was given a special boot allowance because his boots rotted away so quickly in the wet pit, and his digs were so damp that his clothes acquired a green mould.
Read the full article HERE:

        The scheme also affected apprentices, who could be conscripted during their apprenticeship or having completed their apprenticeship at their chosen trade, could find themselves down a coal mine, with no guarantee that they could return to their trade. This sparked the 1943/44 apprentices strike.
The reaction of the young apprentices quite astonished everybody. Everyone was completely taken by surprise when they found that, in fact, these young apprentices, who may have been young in years, were quite old in their experience of the class struggle. Because it was their fathers and relatives who worked down the mines and they were fully aware in fact of the kind of work that was done there. A surprising figure, which was actually revealed by the industrial reporter of the Daily Express, was that during the first year of working down the mines, approximately one third of young workers were actually maimed or killed and it was pointed out that it was more dangerous and you were more likely to be actually injured or killed during your time in the mines then it was if you were in the armed forces.
Read the full article HERE:

       The strike did eventually break up but what did come out of it was that no apprentice would be conscripted during their apprenticeship. 

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