The Wartime Memories Project - Bevin Boys

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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 was be presented in March 2008 on the sixtieth anniversary of the last Bevin Boy being demobbed.

This commemorative badge can be applied for by calling:- 0300 068 5716 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.

Thomas George Harwood was conscripted into the Bevin Boys around 1945-46 and was stationed at Chatterly, Whitfield. We have two photos of dad down the mine, one of them has another person in it. Does anyone recognise that miner?

My father, Joseph Arthur Bolch, was called up for the army, but as he worked in Hessle shipbuilding his employers asked if he could stay until they had finished the contract in the meantime Bevin boys were called up and as my dads N.I. number ended with a 3 he had to come to Denaby Main Colliery in South Yorkshire. He lodged with my grandma but as soon as he and my mam started courting he had to find other digs. His job was a contractor, he opened up new seams for the colliers to mine. He stayed at the pit for 25 years until he left to work in a company that supplied cutting machinery for pits. Sadly my dad passed away in 1988 with pneumoconiosis from which he had suffered badly for 10 years.

I was conscripted in 1945 whilst serving my apprenticeship as an engineer. After spending four weeks at a training pit in Dunfermline, Fife, I was sent out to a pit in Cowdenbeath where I was given a fortnight's work on pit head duties. During a break I went to see the Chief Engineer of the pit and explained to him I was a Bevin Boy who had been serving an apprenticeship, he said he would be happy to have me on his squad as he had lost two engineers to the services.

I then spent three years as an engineer at the pit. I was only three months in the job when I was left as the only engineer at the pit during the weeks summer holiday! I met many of my Bevin Boy mates at their jobs underground, as an engineer I had to learn quickly the geography of the pit and move around from section to section.

I was asked and was tempted to stay on after demob but decided against it. I have spoken to many groups and clubs on my time in the mines and have always met with the same response, that the Boys should have had some recognition of their work. It now appears that after sixty years some recognition is now to be made, but I am lead to believe that all records have been destroyed so recognition can only be made by application.

David Nicoll

Can you help me to find two bevin boys who I worked with at Chester Moor colliery nr Chester-le-street co Durham, their names being Reginald Lowery and Joe Ainsley we were billeted at pelaw bank hostel Chester-le-street. I believe Joe lived in Skelton nth Yorkshire.

I was balloted as a Bevin Boy just before my 18th birthday and sent to Horden Colliery, Co Durham in 1943 to do my 4 weeks training. Then we were sent off to Chester-Moor-South Colliery. Our Hostel where we lived was a collection of Nissen huts {ex army I believe} on Pelaw Bank, near Chester-le Street.

We were a mixture of Cockney-Yorkshire- Welsh lads and I can't remember any of them that volunteered for the pits. But there were some amongst us who were often down to the employment office, situated at the bottom of Pelaw Bank on almost a weekly basis wanting to join the armed forces but to no avail. Having lost a brother in action in 1940 I was a bit peeved.

Some of lads were even threatend with Prison if they not turn up for work at their Collieries. For a couple of years I worked at the face doing what was termed as 'Canch' work, moving the stone so that the coalcutter could get at the coal. Then on the odd times do some coal 'duffing' [that is turning back coal dust on the face}, and a bit of 'putting' now and again.

I worked on one of the worst shifts one could imagine, 6-30pm till 2-30am. Now just think about that if you would. We would be going to work when most people have finished, or going out for the evening. But someone had it to do and we were the unlucky ones. I had one nasty accident during my time at Chester-Moor. We were working tubbing stone at one of the (gates), that is a term used to describe a road way leading off the mainbye. Unknown to us some miners had pushed a tub into our gate, forgetting to tell us it was there and to make matters worse it was on a bit of an incline, chocked of course, but when me and my mate backed our full tub out, my rear behind touched this other tub and I'm afraid I wasn't quick enough to get my full body in between the pit props, and one of my hands got caught in two of the tup handles.

I was taken to a doctor in Chester-le-Street in the early hours of the morning, about 1am I think, awaiting an ambulance and for a few weeks I cycled from Middlesbrough to the Colliery for the paltry sum of £3 per week.

Mind you, I did enjoy my weekends at home and having a chit chat with some of the miners on their allotments near the viaduct at bottom righthand side of Pelaw Bank about their pigeons and whippets'

When a few of us lads went down to the labour exchange to ask about our position when our time in the pits was over, would we be liable to serve in the forces we could not get a definate answer.

My father, Rod Tutton was a Bevin Boy. When I was a lad I was in the Boys Brigade and my father was our gymnastics instructor. One evening our gymnastics was interrupted by a power cut and so I sat with all the other lads in our brigade and listened to my Dad tell tales of his time down the mines. These were stories I had never heard him tell before and I was open mouthed as he told of riding on the conveyor belt and being knocked out by the low ceiling space, of how his head got caught between 2 coal trucks (he still has the scars on both ears) and how he misjudged the run of the coal trucks into the lift and to his horror saw them plunge down the shaft. There were other stories also and I remember that evening, probably 40 years ago, like it was last week.

Here is his story

I lived in East London, in Leytonstone. Before I was 18, as was then standard, I was called for my medical. At the time I chose to sign up for the Navy to be trained as a PTI as I had spent years as a gymnastic instructor in the Boys Brigade and was very fit and capable. However, after my 18th birthday I had, as many others, the shock of my life, to receive instructions to report for duty as a Bevin Boy, my number 6 had been picked from the hat.

I refused to go at first, and then wrote to my local MP, then a Mr. Sorenson, whose answer was that he had no jurisdiction to interfere.

I stated I suffered form claustrophobia and so was sent for another medical plus an assessment by a psychiatrist, Dr Yellowees of Harley Street. In the end though I had either to report for the mines or accept 3 months in prison. After which, if I didn't accept the mines, I would be given another 3 months, and so on.

I had a very strong conviction that I should be allowed to join the Navy, but as my step father was in the forces, I could not give my mother the worry of me being in prison, and so reported for mining duty.

I first went to a training college at East Birley, Yorkshire and finally ended up at William Thorpe Colliery, Holmewood Heath, near to Chesterfield. I had many jobs including driving a pony and was finally demobbed in 1948.

I have many memories of my time in the pits, some good, some funny, some tragic, but I did meet my wife in Holmewood whilst I was based there. She was a Londoner evacuated because of the bombing. We have been happily married now for 56 years.

I'm proud of my Dad and what he gave, and I am always interested to read about the Bevin Boys.

Steve Tutton

I lived in a small quiet town in North Dorset. Of course being near the embarcation ports on the south coast we had many units of the British Army camped around the area together with GI's camped a little further north on Salisbury Plain so in 1943 the town was buzzing.

At that time I was 17 and at two months before my 18th birthday I got the buff envelope requiring me to submit myself at Salisbury for a medical etc. prior to being called up. I had been a cadet in the Air Training Corps and was passed A1 and when asked which service did I prefer I plumped for the Fleet Air Arm. I liked the naval uniform you see.

A few days before my 18th birthday on February 20th another buff envelope plopped on the mat - the contents gave me the shock of my young life ---- I was commanded to present myself at the Prince of Wales Colliery, Pontefract and the rail warrant was there to show they meant business. No smart uniform for me --- Ernie Bevin, wartime Minister of Labour had decided by a ballot that I should become one of his boys and work down the pit and there was no argument about it. It was that or prison.

The appointed day arrived and I caught the train for Waterloo and then to King's Cross for Pontefract. If anyone knows anything of wartime trains they can imagine the crowding with every branch of the services both male and female travelling to their bases all over the country. So it was standing room only all the way. The train should have arrived at Pontefract at 8.30pm -- around 2.30am I was dumped on Pontefract Station.

Completely blacked out and not a light to be seen I headed off over the echoing cobbled streets to the Police Station -- telling the sergeant what I was supposed to be doing. I was told "tha better come in here then lad -- I've got a bed for tha" so my first night sleep in Yorkshire was spent in a prison cell.

Norman Brickell

I was a bevin boy, I did my training at Askern colliery, Doncaster then to Norton & Biddulph colliery Smallthorn, North Staffordshire & finishing at Littlestone colliery Cannock. I often wonder how some of the guys have done.

Sydney Yeomans

I was a Bevin Boy in Wales having been called up at 18 instead of the Army. Typical, since I had been a Sergeant in the Army Cadet Force and also a member of the Home Guard. Later I was able to dissapear from the mines and became a Rifleman in the "Rifle Brigade" a regiment now disbanded.

John Brinsmead

I am trying to find a Bevin boy who stayed with my Grandma during the second world war. I am doing world war two at school and my Grandma keeps mentioning the Bevin boy that stayed with them. I hope I can give you enough information to find my Grandma's Bevin boy.

He was called Max Ott and was origionally from Sussex. If he is still alive he should be about 80 years old. My Grandma recalls his family had some land and that they appeared to be quite wealthy. Max's mother used to send up food parcels full of all the treats that were so hard to get during the war, which he shared with my Grandma and her brother and the rest of the family. My Grandma's name was Joan Davison and she lived with her brother William (Billy), her mother, Hilda and her father William. They lived at Burnside at Bedlington Station in Northumberland (near Blyth). I hope I have given you enough information to help find Max. My Grandma would be thrilled.

Many thanks Gemma.
UPDATE: Max has been located and is back in touch with Joan and her family.

The Coal Frog: A Bevin Boy at Alveley Wonder Pit

They called me the Coal frog. It wasn't a bad nickname either. Anyone who saw me crawling along a coal face three feet six inches high would agree that I was not exactly the picture of agility It was by no means easy for me, a youth of eighteen, not used to manual work, to adapt myself to life in Shropshire`s Wonder Pit at Alveley, near Bridgnorth, where I was sent by Mr Bevin. Looking back however, I find I had some quite good fun and interesting experiences from three years of a mole`s eye view of Shropshire and Shropshire men.

Alveley is an up to date pit.It`s miners mostly from the twin villages of Highley and Alveley, but including a sprinkling of men from the Clee Hill and Bridgnorth districts, broke several output records while I was there, in the days when coal was more news than it is now. It gives me a sense of pride to feel that I played some small, though not very distinguished part in Keeping the home fires burning.

I did a variety of different jobs down the pit, but such a poor showing did I make at most of them, that I was kept at none of them long.

It was on this work that I got my nickname. After holes have been bored in the coal face with a machine known as a tadger in readiness for shotfiring, a peculiar gurgling noise comes from them, by subterranean water.I asked in my ignorance what the sound was, and was told it was made by a coal frog. I peered into one of the holes and it was immediately assumed I was looking for this mythical animal. Soon the whole coal face was echoing with Shropshire laughter. I had been christened The Coal Frog.

Such was my acquaintance with that innate sense of humour possessed by Salopians, which was frequently called on to brighten the austerity of life underground. The tale was often told at Alveley and probably still is, of the collier who went to London and was asked if he went to Buckingham Palace. No was the reply but I saw that balcony they comes out on you know.

One morning I was on the coal face at 9am when there was a heavy fall of muck from the roof. We just scrambled clear in time. A lorry going over the new road said one collier or the gaffer getting out of bed continued his mate.

The peculiar Shropshire slang words I learnt during my stay at Alveley would fill a small dictionary. Surry! a kind of exclamation, was the most common, while another unusual word was muzzuck which I believe means chin. My head became a yud a field a fild , while posts were always referred to as posties with a silent "t". Bist were the words we used to greet each other with in the morning. While the time for knocking off has been known for generations as loose it. Everybody in the pit uses these words, and by the time I left Alveley I, a son of Worcestershire had acquired quite a Shropshire accent.

The above are just a few odd recollections of the time I spent in this little Shropshire Pit, no collier ever refers to them as mines. Although in many ways it seemed like a sentence of three years hard labour to me, I don`t feel any the worse for it. There`s a spirit of comradeship among colliers, Shropshire one`s especially.

Geoffrey Williams.

If you were a Bevin Boy during World War Two we would love to hear from you.

Please contact us:

As 2005 is the 60th anniversary of the end of World War Two, we are celebrating by extending the Wartime Memories Project to collect as much material as possible. If you or any of your family or friends would like to contribute we would love to hear from you.
If you live in the UK we may be able to arrange to have our professional video crew record the telling of wartime stories, to create a lasting resource which will be used for education.
We would love to hear from anyone who would be interested in taking part.

List of those who served as a Bevin Boy.

  • Joe Ainsley. (Chester Moor, County Durham) Read his story
  • Johnny Allcock. (Easington Colliery, County Durham)
  • Ken Ashton. (Newmarket Colliery)
  • James Bamford Bates (Northumberland)
  • Norman Brickell (New Monckton Colliery, Yorkshire)Read his story
  • John Brinsmead (Wales) Read his story
  • Joseph Arthur Bolch. Denaby Main Colliery. Read his Story
  • R.C. Dawe (Treharris Deep Navigation Mine, Wales)
  • Mr. Dowden (Bedford Colliery, Lancashire) Read his story
  • Stan Durban. (Derbyshire)
  • Doug Fletcher (Newmarket Colliery)
  • Bill Gibbs. (Clipstone Colliery, Derbyshire) Read his story
  • John Gilbert. (Easington Colliery, County Durham)
  • George Grainger. (Chester Moor, County Durham) Read his story
  • Frederick Graydon. (Yorkshire)
  • Peter Hamer. (Darfield Main Colliery, Yorkshire) Read his story
  • Thomas George Harwood. (Chatterly, Whitfield) Read his Story
  • Julian Jover. (Easington Colliery, County Durham)
  • Fred Kelly (Silverwood)
  • Ken Knitingale (Grimethorp, Yorkshire)
  • Reginald Lowery. (Chester Moor, County Durham) Read his story
  • Len Mansell (Grimethorp, Yorkshire)
  • Reg Mant. (Derby) Read his story
  • Harry Michaels (Eastwood, Nottinghamshire)
  • Les Mitten (Nottinghamshire)
  • Frank Moon. (Easington Colliery, County Durham)
  • "Spud" Murphy. (Easington Colliery, County Durham)
  • Max Ott. (Northumberland) Read his story
  • George Ralston. (Lady Victoria Colliery, Scotland) Read his story
  • Richard Robinson.
  • John Sutcliffe (Newmarket Colliery)
  • Willi Starr (Gartshore)
  • Reg Taylor. (Yorkshire) Read his story
  • Gerald Walter Thompson.
  • Rod Tutton. (William Thorpe Colliery, Holmewood Heath) Read his story
  • Kenneth Wade (Silverdale, North Staffs)
  • Geoffrey Williams. (Alveley Wonder Pit Shropshire) Read his story
  • Leslie Wilson (Wales)
  • Archibald "Killer" Woodford. (Kirby) Read his story
  • Sydney Yeomans. (Askern colliery, Norton & Biddulph colliery, Smallthorn, Littlestone colliery)Read his story

If you have any names to add to this list, or any recollections or photos of those listed, please get in touch.

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