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Bevin Boys in the Second World War 1939-1945 - The Wartime Memories Project -

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Bevin Boys

       As Britain was unable to import Coal during World War II, the production of coal from mines in Britain had to be increased. There was an extreme shortage of labour for the British Coal Mines, because most of the miners had been conscripted by the Government for active duty. The Government made a plea to Servicemen to volunteer for this vital service, but few did. The program, The Bevin Boys, was named after the Minister of Labour and National Defence, Ernest Bevin. In December 1943, due to the urgent need for coal for the War Effort, it was decided that a certain percentage of the conscripted men would have to be assigned to the mine. This caused a great deal of upset as the many of the young men wanted to join th efighting forces and many felt that they were not valued. In his speech to the conscripted miners, Bevin referred to them as his boys, hence the name, “Bevin Boys”. Many suffered taunts as they wore no uniform and were wrongly assumed to be avoiding serving in the armed forces. Many were not released from their work until several years after the war ended, long after their counterparts in the armed forces had returned to civilian life.

    In a speech, made by the Queen, in 1995, fifty years after the end of the war, the contribution of these men was finally recognized. In 2007, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, announced that a special honour would be presented to all conscripts who served in the mines. The first badge will be presented in March 2008. This will be the sixtieth anniversary of the last Bevin Boy being demobbed.

    This commemorative badge can be applied for by calling:- The Service Personnel and Veterans Agency helpline on 0800 169 2277 or by visiting

    If you or your relative served as a Bevin Boy, please get in touch, we would love to add your recollections and any photos you may have to this page.

    If you can provide any additional information, especially on actions and locations at specific dates, please add it here.

    Those known to have served with

    Bevin Boys

    during the Second World War 1939-1945.

    The names on this list have been submitted by relatives, friends, neighbours and others who wish to remember them, if you have any names to add or any recollections or photos of those listed, please Add a Name to this List

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    James Edwards

    Jimmy Edwards was killed by a cave in whilst serving as a Bevin Boy.

    Hugh Campbell

    My father who will be 90 on June 2nd was a Bevin Boy. This article was published in our community newspaper "The Oakville Beaver" on May 17/08.

    A Bevin Boy finally gets his war medal

    He heeded his country's call and toiled in the darkest depths of the earth for years facing fires, floods and cave-ins. When it was all over he did not even get a thank you, until now. Oakville resident Hugh Campbell, 89, has finally been recognized for the role he played for England during the Second World War. He did not fire a rifle, pilot a plane or drive a tank, but what he did was just as important to the war effort and, at times, just as dangerous.

    Campbell, a native of Scotland, was conscripted by England to mine coal.

    "I was underground for more than two years," he said. "We were stationed in a place north of England near the ocean on the east coast. So, I worked under the sea."

    Mining coal was not what Campbell had intended for his wartime experience and even today does not like to talk about it for fear listeners will find his stories boring. With the outbreak of war in September of 1939, Campbell, then 21, was initially drafted into the Highland Light Infantry where he was trained as a soldier.

    "We were trained to do everything," said Campbell. "To fight and shoot and kill."

    While he was never deployed to a battlefield, Campbell saw plenty of the enemy with Glasgow becoming a regular target for German bombers during the Battle of Britain.

    "When an air raid broke out, we reported for duty and we went out with our guns," said Campbell. "You could see the German bombers at night time because our guns were firing and lighting up everything."

    Campbell's regiment was also stationed in the English community of Chelston, which it was ordered to defend against a possible German land invasion or parachute drop. All this soldiering came to an end in 1943 when Campbell and around 48,000 other men were ordered to the mines.

    This strange shift in professions was the result of a terrible mistake made by the British government at the start of the war when thousands of experienced coal miners were conscripted to fight with the armed forces. This decision eventually had devastating consequences. As the war dragged on, England became desperate for coal, not only for the war effort, but to heat homes during the winter. The solution to this problem was a lottery in which soldiers whose service numbers ended in a particular digit were sent to replace the miners. These new mining recruits were called Bevin Boys after Ernest Bevin, the Minister of Labour and National Service, who invented the conscription program. For Campbell, having to move from being a soldier to a miner was a terrible shock.

    "I was mad the whole war and it was because I was a Bevin Boy," he said. "I was trained as a soldier and I thought I was going to finish the war as a soldier and I wasn't." Despite his objections, Campbell knew he had no choice in the matter and went to work. With no uniform or badge for this job, Campbell would arrive at the mine every day in the oldest clothes he had and descend by elevator around 1,000 feet underground before reaching his station level. From there, Campbell said he had to walk another 1,000 feet to get to his work area.

    "It was hot as hell in there," he said. "The only light was from our helmets." As much as Campbell and many of the other Bevin Boys wanted out of the mines, there were those who wanted them out even more. Not all of the experienced miners had been sent to war, and those who remained did not appreciate their mine being flooded with amateurs.

    "There was one man who really didn't like me," said Campbell. "He was a real miner from that part of the country and he didn't want me there in case I did something stupid that would cost him his life." The man's name was John Graham. As it turned out, having Campbell around actually saved Graham's life one day during one of the mine's all too frequent cave-ins.

    "The ceiling came down and I had to do a bit of digging to get him out," said Campbell. "After that I was invited to his house and I met his wife and his family, and they all acted like I did something heroic. It meant a lot to them." For the remainder of his time in the mine, Campbell and Graham worked together and even survived other cave-ins together. During one particularly bad cave-in, both Campbell and Graham became trapped underground and with all lights going out there was nothing for them to do, but wait in the pitch-blackness for either rescue or death.

    "John said, 'Do you remember when I told you that you would get to like this place so much you wouldn't want to leave it? Well, now you're not going to leave the bloody thing,'" said Campbell.

    "I told him to shut his big mouth." Fortunately, a safety crew broke through moments later and took Campbell and Graham to safety. Other Bevin Boys would not be so lucky.

    "One day I was talking to this guy in the cage (elevator) named Jimmy Edwards and halfway through the day I heard there'd been a fall-in and people had been killed and he was one of them," said Campbell. "I don't know how many Bevin Boys lost it." Besides cave-ins, fire was another an ever-present danger in the mine, however, Graham taught Campbell an unusual way to escape with the help of the small ponies that were used to carry materials throughout the subterranean labyrinth. On one terrifying occasion, Campbell had to put this theory into practice.

    "We were down there one day, and there was smoke and fire and we were choking and coughing," said Campbell. With little air and unable to find their way out due to the blinding smoke, both men could have perished had it not been for two nearby ponies.

    "I had no idea what I was doing," said Campbell.

    "I turned to John and said, 'What the hell do we do now,' and he said, 'The ponies will get us out. Grab it by the tail and give it a whack in the ass.'" Campbell said the ponies ran all the way to their stables at the foot of the surface elevator with the two men in tow. Campbell reported the fire and the situation was brought under control.

    While the war ended in 1945, Campbell was not discharged from the mine until 1946, at which point he discovered that his entire underground experience was the result of a clerical error -- his serial number did not contain the proper digits to designate him as a Bevin Boy. "That really bugged my bum," he said. Although Campbell was able to return to his prewar job, many Bevin Boys found that their old positions had been given away. They also received no medals or any other form of recognition until 2007 when the British government issued the Bevin Boy Veterans Badge, which Campbell received in the mail recently.

    "I don't know whether I like it or whether I don't," said Campbell. "I survived and that's all I can say. I don't really need a medal." Recognition of a different sort took place shortly before he was released from the mine when Campbell was invited to march in a parade during a professional miner's convention.

    "A union guy came to me and asked me if I would carry their banner," said Campbell. "I was overwhelmed."

    Campbell would later immigrate to Canada where he practiced real estate for many years in Oakville. He married, fathered three children and is now a grandfather of five.

    Article by David Lea, The Oakville Beaver on May 17/08

    Cheryl Sporta

    Grafton Whincup

    My father, Grafton Whincup, who has recently turned 81, is a surviving Bevin Boy. He often relates his stories of working down the pit to myself and my children.

    Susan Horgan

    Ralph Watson

    My aunt who lived in Gateshead met and married a Bevin boy, Ralph Watson, who had been enlisted from the London area and sent up north to work in a coal mine near Hetton le Hole. After the war they moved back down south to the Slough area, where they brought up a family of four boys and one girl. I thought it would be a good gesture to have his name added to the list of Bevin boys who all did a good job in time of need.

    Frank Smith

    My late father Frank Smith was a Bevin Boy. I think he was called up in 1944. He would have been 21 on the 19th of September that year. He did his training at Pendlebury near Manchester from where he was posted to Hapton Valley near Burnley Lancs. He left the mining industry in 1947 just before the Pits were nationalised.

    Ian Smith

    James O'Neill

    My father James O'Neill, who is still alive, served as a Bevin boy from start to finish. Although he was an air cadet and wanted to join the RAF as a rear gunner, he was dismissed and sent down the mines. He did his initial training at Humber Hill and Victory mines in County Durham where he lived and then went onto Bettshanger Collery in Kent for the remainder of the war. He was one of the last to be demobbed in 1948.

    If anyone has any records that I can pass on to him of people, places and names that would help him to remember I would be eternally grateful.

    Mary Nah

    John Henry Pearson

    My Grandad, John Pearson, known today as Granddad Jack, was born in 1920 in Deeping St Nicholas in Lincolnshire. He was called up to be a Bevin Boy during WWII. All we are aware off is, he was based up in Nottinghamshire, he was based at three collieries, Cresell, Morton and TeversalL (please excuse the spelling) We as a family do not know more than this as Granddad does not give up his past that easily.

    Melonie Pope

    Percy Wright

    My mother has told me that my father Percy Wright was the very first Bevin Boy from Amble. He went to sign up for the army and was told he had flat feet and would be no use for marching - he offered to prove he could walk or 'March' the enrolling officer off his feet. However, the challenge wasn't accepted - anyone who knew my Dad would agree he could probably have done this easily as he was a great walker. So to the mines he was sent, and after a short time lodging in Gosforth (while he did his training), he retuend home to Amble and served at Hauxley, then Broomhill and finally a short time at Shilbottle coal mines. After the war he went to work on the coal boats at Amble Harbour as a coal trimmer. When the coal dried up they loaded grain instead. Later in life he worked as a mini bus driver taking and collecting men to/from Shilbottle and Hampeth collieries. He talked to me about the ponies and a little about the conditions in which they worked and how far out under the North Sea they travelled each day to reach the coal seams. Hw would have been pleased that the Bevin Boys were finally being recognised and to receive a badge for their service. I think he would have liked us (his family) to have been able to claim this on his behalf.


    Allan Wolf Abrahams

    My dad Allan Wolf Abrahams was a Bevin Boy from 1944 to the end. He would have been 18 in October 1944. He stayed in the mines after the war until 1960 as a shot-firer.

    I was always told that he volunteered for the pits rather than fight as he was a conscientious objector. I don't know now if that wass true. He was Jewish (from the East End of London)and had some difficulties with anti-Semitic attitudes during his time with the Coal Board.

    I don't know where he did his training but he was posted to Wigan. I think he stayed with a Mrs Hamilton. Some time later he moved (or was moved) up to Scotland where he was at Patna Colliery, Ayrshire. He met my Mum in Glasgow in 1956. He finished at Mansfield, Notts.

    I haven't seen anything about Bevin Boys at the Wigan coalfield. If anybody remembers anything or knew my Dad please get in touch. He died sadly early in 1979 after a car crash. He was only 52.

    Mandi Abrahams

    John Glendinning McRobert

    My Father Jack McRobert was a Bevin Boy who wanted to be a pilot. He studied Engineering at Falkirk Mining College and worked at Denny, Plean and Machrahanish Mine. He was a Shot-firer and was always involved in humorous events. On one occasion he put grease on a telephone ear piece and waited for the Ganger to lift the phone.

    Jim McRobert

    John Callister

    John Callister was a Bevin boy at Lincoln, does anyone remember him? I'd love to hear any stories.

    John Callister

    Ronald Bown

    During during my time as a Bevin Boy, I did a months training Haunchwood Colliery Nuneaton, then nearly two years at Florence Colliery, Longton Stoke-on- Trent, then two years at Hilton Main Colliery near Wolverhampton.

    Ronald Bown

    Denis Blanchard Forbes

    My Dad, Denis Forbes was a Bevin Boy and was the first to go from Guildford, Surrey, which was noted in the local paper, the Surrey Advertiser. They did an interview with him a couple of years ago when he got his medal at last. He has some interesting stories to tell about his lodgings and the conditions that they endured both above and below ground.

    Jennie Falconer

    Percy William Wood

    My dad, Percy, who sadly passed away almost 8 years ago, was a bevin boy in County Durham.

    Tracy Rennie

    Donald Harris

    My brother-in-law, Donald Harris, was born 9 February 1926 at Stockwell and educated at the Farningham Home for Boys, Kent. Don was called up for Service in December 1943 but was balloted into the Bevin Coal Mining Scheme. After training at Chesterfield he worked at the Newstead Colliery. After a few months he was injured in a hauling accident underground and spent the best part of two years having treatment and skin grafts to his right hand at Mansfield Hospital. He recovered sufficiently to be employed again at the mine but in the telephone exchange underground. After the war he returned to live with family in Battersea. Donald passed away at Wimbledon on 14th September 2009. He never married.

    Marjorie Harris

    John R Dunsmuir

    My father (now deceased) served as a Bevin Boy in Scotland during WWII. I don't what pits he worked at. His name was John R. Dunsmuir. Originally he was scheduled to join the navy, but was conscripted into the mines.

    When we were kids he used to tell us stories of some of the "hi-jinks" they would get up to and the dangers from gas and so on. He remembered playing Cowboys and Indians on the pit ponies which was forbidden. He did radio repairs in his spare time.

    David Dunsmuir

    John George Graham Instructor

    I have just found out that my grandad, John George Graham, taught the Bevan Boys. He taught from 1940 till end of the war. He came from Coxlodge Newcastle. I am not sure where he taught as my mum can't remember. I just wondered if anyone can remember him and fill in any gaps,as I trace my ancenstors. I would love to get a reply.

    Janette Hart

    Harry Augustus "Abbs" Howes

    My Dad Harry Howes served as a Bevin Boy at Ashington Colliery in the Second World War. He told me that he hated his time down the mines it was the worst time of his life. He said that the general miners took a dislike to the Bevin Boys and he hated being stuck working underground. My dad wanted to go in his dad's regiment which was the King's Royal Artillery but was chosen by a number out of the hat to go down the mines. I'm glad that I have my dad's medal and I know that he was proud to serve his country down the mine.

    Shirley Bryant

    Peter John Lewis

    My Dad, Peter Lewis was a Bevin Boy and worked at Kibblesworth Colliery from June 1944 until November 1947. He would love to hear about any other Bevin Boys from that time.

    Jeanette Hurst

    John McDonald

    My late Grandfather, John McDonald, was a Bevin Boy in Kent during the Second World War. I am trying to find out any information if there is a memorial to the gallant miners who worked undergound during the Second World War.

    Catherine Adams

    Walder "Wally" Marchant

    My uncle was Walder (Wally) Marchant. I never knew him but understood from my Dad (his brother) that he worked in the tin mines in Cornwall during WW2. The family lost all contact with him at the end of the War and never heard from him again. I have just realised that he was, in fact, a Bevin Boy. I would be pleased to hear if anyone out there remembers him or has any information about him?

    Barry Marchant

    Charles William Carter

    My Dad, Bill Carter, was called up from our little village of Charfield, Wotton Under Edge, South Glos and was sent to the mines in Wales.

    My brother has all the details and such items as his original call up papers and where he was to report to etc.

    My Dad really disliked working in the mines and was always very claustrophobic afterwards. He lodged with a family in Treharris and played football for the local team there. He met my mother after she had been demobbed from the ATS and they had 53 years of marriage.

    I would love to be able to apply for the Bevin Boy special honour on behalf of my late father. My Mum received her ATS service badge and was thrilled with it, she wore it with such pride. My father really wanted to join the Air Force, not the mines, and felt that the Bevin Boys should have had some sort of recognition for the time spent in the mines.

    Annette Carter

    William Kenneth Smith

    I was conscripted to the mines, when I wanted to go in the services. First I did my training at Oakdale, South Wales then I was sent to Britannia Colliery, South Wales. First day on the coal face I was assistant to a miner. I also had to join a union and buy my own shovel and steel cap boots, which was stopped from my wages. Four of us were billeted in Bargoed, I had to share a bed, except when he was on nights, I had the bed and when I was on nights he had the bed. Unfortunately for me he died of T.B. Which a few months later I contracted. Not realising at the time what was wrong with me, I was threatened with prosecution and jail if I had any more odd days off. I hated Bevin and still do. I have been ashamed when people asked me which service I was in, as my Dad was a Sargent in WW1, whom I was very proud of.

    William K. Smith.

    Maurice Emerson

    My Dad, Maurice Emerson, went to join the Navy with his best friend Revvie Brown who lived next door to him in a small terraced house in Stanhope in the heart of Weardale, County Durham. Revvie was taken on by the Navy but for some reason related to his age Dad was sent into the mines. He was unhappy about this and hated his time in the mine. The only good thing was he met Mam, Sylvia Sanderson, while he was working the Horden mine, they married in 1954 and were married 58 years until Mam's death in 2012. Dad sadly died this year aged 87. I wish I knew more about his years in the pits but he wasn't happy to talk about it.

    Editor's note: Men joining up were selected to be Bevin Boys if their enlistment number ended in the number 9, it was simply by chance that Maurice was selected, like so many others who would rather have served in uniform.

    Lyn Emerson Howdill

    Cyril Kilburn

    My dad, Cyril Kilburn, was a Bevin Boy at Newstrad Colliery and sadly passed away on 26th july 2014. During his final days he was reminissing about being down the coal mines and about a rude poem that someone had written on the back of a toilet door. He recited it word for word and made all his family laugh, but unfortunately none of us can remember it..

    Sandra Horne

    John Henry Pearson

    Granddads  medals, on the Bevin Boy plaque.

    My Grandfather, John Pearson, known by everyone as Jack was a conscripted Bevin Boy from the years of 1943-1945. He was at the time a farm labourer and worked the land in a small village by the name of Tallington, in Lincolnshire. He did his training in Creswell and worked at the Silver Hill, Manton and Tavarsall Mines. Other Bevin Boys working at the time with Granddad were Richard, Lee and Percy. He billeted in Manchester with a Mrs Eliot.

    He was born in 1920 and sadly passed away at the great age of 93. He never really talked about his time with the Bevin Boys, but in 1999 I started doing the family tree and he finally opened up to his time during the war.

    He was one of 6 children, and had 4 of his own children. I spoke to my Grandfather about getting the Bevin Boy Medal and he was not really interested but as a surprise for his 90th Birthday I finally got the medals he had deserved. I have visited the memorial at the National Arboretum and wore his medals with pride. I find it sad that none of my family ever knew about how big a part their father had played during WWII, as none of them actually knew he was a Bevin Boy, until I told them. I would like this story to be told as I think his efforts during the war should not be forgotten. If anyone can remember my Grandfather please feel free to contact me. Mr Melonie Jane Pope (maiden name: Pearson) Granddaughter of John Henry Pearson

    Melonie Jane Pope

    John Brinsmead Rifle Brigade

    I served in the Home Guard for a short spell, then as a Bevin Boy underground. Finally, I served with the Rifle Brigade in Germany. My father was a POW in Stalag XXB having been captured at Dunkirk. He also served in WW1.

    John Brinsmead

    Bruce Alan Crouch

    My dad was a Bevin Boy, I think at a pit in Doncaster. Does anyone remember him?

    T Crouch

    Lawrence Joseph Mallard

    My father, Lawrence Joseph Mallard, was a Bevin Boy sent down the mine at Cannock in 1944. He was known to his colleagues as "Big Joe" and would have been about 20 when he was called for duty. Unusually, I believe, for a Bevin Boy, he worked at the coalface. I would love to hear from anyone who can recall him from those days. He lived in Oldbury, and used to motorcycle to Cannock each day for his shift. I have details of where he trained and his ballot number.

    Kenneth Halliwell

    Kenneth Halliwell was a Bevin Boy in Wigan in 1944. Does anyone remember him?

    Tom Orchard

    Recomended Reading.

    Available at discounted prices.

    Called Up, Sent Down: The Bevin Boys' War

    Tom Hickman

    Ernest Bevin, the Minister of Labour, sought service volunteers - and compulsorily sent 20,000 18-year-olds, who'd expected to fight for their country, down the mines with them. Some were so angry that they preferred to go to prison. The majority went to do their best. But some were psychologically and others physically unsuited to such dangerous and arduous work. Many were injured; some died. "Called Up, Sent Down" paints a picture not just of the arduous life below ground but as the Bevin Boys found it in the tightly-knit mining communities, which in some cases welcomed them but in others treated them with hostility. "Called Up, Send Down" is an enthralling oral and social history of an episode of the Second World War that has never been fully told.

    Bevin Boy - A Reluctant Miner

    Reg Taylor

    The personal story of a Bevin Boy, one of the band of boys recruited by Ernest Bevin during the Second World War to work in the coal mines. Explore with him the experience of this subterranean life: the vagaries of the mining technology of the time, the back-breaking work, the hazards and the discomforts. His frequent amusing anecdotes together with his engaging observations of work mates serve as relief to this account of industrial slavery. The description of various episodes both above and below ground level reveal his wry sense of humour. Although a release scheme for the Bevin Boys was finally introduced, the author's escape comes about in an unexpected way and he eventually enters a more suitable professional area. Personal reminiscences of a by-gone age are always both fascinating and instructive, and these memoirs are no exception.
    More information on:

    Bevin Boy - A Reluctant Miner

    The Forgotten Conscript: A History of the Bevin Boy

    Warwick Taylor

    Sixty years ago, the arrival of the buff envelope explaining that their 'number had come up' changed the expectation and lives of many young men preparing to join the Services. The call applied to an entire cross-section of society. They were not allowed to say 'no'. This book tells the tales about a largely unknown and almost forgotten army which played a key role in winning the Second World War - from far below the surface of the earth and in daily danger. The Bevin Boys lived on site - mainly in hostels - worked underground and had difficulty in being released back into civilian life at the end of the war.


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