Bevin Boys

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Bevin Boys were young British men conscripted to work in the coal mines of the United Kingdom, between December 1943 and March 1948.[1] Chosen by lot as ten percent of all male conscripts aged 18–25, plus some volunteering as an alternative to military conscription, nearly 48,000 Bevin Boys performed vital and dangerous, but largely unrecognised civil conscription service in coal mines. Many of them were not released from service until well over two years after the Second World War ended.

Bevin Boys receiving training from an experienced miner at Ollerton, Nottinghamshire, February 1945

Creation of programme[edit]

The programme was named after Ernest Bevin, a former trade union official and then British Labour Party politician who was Minister of Labour and National Service in the wartime coalition government. At the beginning of the war the Government, underestimating the value of strong younger coal miners, conscripted them into the armed forces. By mid-1943 the coal mines had lost 36,000 workers, and they were generally not replaced, because other likely young men were also being conscripted to the armed forces. The government made a plea to men liable to conscription, asking them to volunteer to work in the mines, instead, but few responded, and the manpower shortage continued.

By October 1943 Britain was becoming desperate for a continued supply of coal, both for the industrial war effort and for keeping homes warm throughout the winter. On 12 October Gwilym Lloyd-George, Minister of Fuel and Power, announced in the House of Commons that some conscripts would be directed to the mines. On 2 December Ernest Bevin explained the scheme in more detail. The colloquial name "Bevin Boys" came from a further speech Bevin made:

We need 720,000 men continuously employed in this industry. This is where you boys come in. Our fighting men will not be able to achieve their purpose unless we get an adequate supply of coal.

From 1943 to 1945 one in ten of young men called up was sent to work in the mines. This caused a deal of upset, as many young men wanted to join the fighting forces and felt that as miners they would not be valued. Many Bevin Boys suffered taunts as they wore no uniform, and there were accusations by some people that they were deliberately avoiding military conscription.


Selection of conscripts[edit]

To make the process random, one of Bevin's secretaries each week, from 14 December 1943, pulled a digit from a hat containing all ten digits, 0–9, and all men liable for call-up that week whose National Service registration number ended in that digit were directed to work in the mines, with the exception of any selected for highly skilled war work such as flying planes and in submarines, and men found physically unfit for mining. Conscripted miners came from many different trades and professions, from desk work to heavy manual labour, and included some who might otherwise have become commissioned officers.

Working conditions[edit]

A classroom lecture where Bevin Boys are learning about the Davy lamp at Ollerton, Nottinghamshire, in February 1945

Boys when they were nearly 18 years old received an official postcard instructing them in five days time to report to a training centre such as at Cresswell Colliery, Derbyshire.[2]

The Bevin Boys were first given six weeks' training (four off-site, two on). The work was typical coal mining, largely a mile or more down dark, dank tunnels, and conscripts were supplied with helmets and steel-capped safety boots. Bevin Boys did not wear uniforms or badges, but the oldest clothes they could find. Being of military age and without uniform caused many to be stopped by police and questioned about avoiding call-up.[3]

Since a number of conscientious objectors were sent to work down the mines as an alternative to military service (under a system wholly separate from the Bevin Boy programme), there was sometimes an assumption that Bevin Boys were "Conchies". The right to conscientiously object to military service for philosophical or religious reasons was recognised in conscription legislation, as it had been in the First World War. However, old attitudes still prevailed amongst some members of the general public, with resentment by association towards Bevin Boys. In 1943 Ernest Bevin said in Parliament: "There are thousands of cases in which conscientious objectors, although they may have refused to take up arms, have shown as much courage as anyone else in Civil Defence."[4]

End of programme[edit]

Bevin Boy Veteran badge, awarded to former Bevin Boys by the British Government since 2008.[5]

Unlike war-service veterans, Bevin Boys received neither medals nor the right to return to the jobs they had previously held, although they were entitled to the Government's Further Education and Training Scheme (FETS); which was also available for war-service veterans. An indication of their importance to the war effort was that Bevin Boys received the then generous sum of £240 per year plus education fees to study at a university.[6][better source needed]

The role played by Bevin Boys in Britain's war effort was not fully recognised until 1995, 50 years after VE Day, when Queen Elizabeth II mentioned them in a speech.[7]

On 20 June 2007, Tony Blair informed the House of Commons that thousands of conscripts who worked in mines during the Second World War would be awarded a veterans badge similar to the HM armed forces badge awarded by the Ministry of Defence.[8] The first badges were awarded on 25 March 2008 by the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, at a reception in 10 Downing Street, marking the 60th anniversary of discharge of the last Bevin Boys.

One of the memorial stones at the National Memorial Arboretum.

On Tuesday 7 May 2013, a memorial to the Bevin Boys, based on the Bevin Boys Badge, was unveiled by the Countess of Wessex at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Staffordshire. The memorial was designed by former Bevin Boy Harry Parkes; it is made of four stone plinths carved from grey Kilkenny stone from the Republic of Ireland. The stone should turn black like the coal that the miners extracted.[9]

The Bevin Boys Association is trying to trace all 48,000 Bevin Boy conscripts, optants or volunteers who served in Britain's coal mines during and after the war, from 1943 to 1948.[10]

Notable Bevin Boys[edit]

Bevin Boys Assocation[edit]

The Bevin Boys Association was formed in 1989 with a small membership of 32 in the Midlands area. By 2009 the membership had grown to over 1,800 from all over the United Kingdom and overseas.

Today the Bevin Boys Association continues to hold meetings and reunions as well as attending commemoration services.

The society produces a newsletter for all members.

In popular culture[edit]

Douglas Livingstone's radio play, Road to Durham, is a fictional account of two former Bevin Boys, now in their eighties, as they visit the Durham Miners' Gala.[19]

See also[edit]

  • Unfree labour - a related, although different concept; labour in time of war or national emergency is specifically exempted from the category of 'unfree labour', as is work related to fulfilling a civic obligation.


  1. ^ Bevin Boys – BERR Archived 14 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Interview 29 August 2019 with ex-Bevin Boy Kenneth Jones born 1926.
  3. ^ Called Up Sent Down : The Bevin Boys' War – Tom Hickman Pub. The History Press 2008 ISBN 0-7509-4547-8
  4. ^ 1940–1949 Candles in the Dark , Peace Pledge Union
  5. ^ "5 things you (probably) didn't know about the Bevin Boys". Retrieved 31 August 2019.
  6. ^ Interview 29 August 2019 with ex-Bevin Boy Kenneth Jones born 1926.
  7. ^ "Bevin's Boys – British Conscripts Forced To Mine Coal – Kept in the Dark for Over 70 Years". Retrieved 31 August 2019.
  8. ^ "Bevin Boys' war effort honoured with badge". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 31 August 2019.
  9. ^ "Bevin Boys memorial unveiled by Countess of Wessex". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  10. ^ "Bevin Boys Association entry on Culture24". Retrieved 16 December 2009.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Mosse, Werner Eugen; Carlebach, Julius. Second chance: two centuries of German-speaking Jews in the United Kingdom. Mohr Siebeck. pp. 376–. ISBN 9783161457418. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  13. ^ Interview 29 August 2019 with ex-Bevin Boy Kenneth Jones born 1926.
  14. ^ "Bolton Council-Bolton's Bevin Boys remembered". Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  15. ^ a b Cooke, Ken (2007). History of the Percy Jackson Grammar School: Adwick-le-Street, Doncaster, Yorkshire, 1939–1968 : Recollections of Schooldays of the 1940s, 1950s & 1960s. Troubador Publishing Ltd. pp. 6–. ISBN 9781905886784. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  16. ^ "Kenneth Partridge, interior designer – obituary". 21 December 2015. Retrieved 21 January 2016.
  17. ^ English Dance & Song. 41–44. English Folk Dance and Song Society. 1979. p. 18.
  18. ^ Morton, Ray (1 February 2011). Amadeus: Music on Film Series. Hal Leonard. pp. 21–. ISBN 9780879104177. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  19. ^ Giddings, Robert (30 April 2009). "RADIO: Seamless drama goes underground to dig deep for victory". Tribune. Retrieved 25 August 2011.

External links[edit]

The Forgotten Conscript

The Bevin Boys Official Association