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Bevin Boys

Discussion in 'The Home Front' started by Jim, Oct 17, 2007.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    As had happened during the Great War, the huge expansion of the military led to shortages of manpower in many fields of employment.
    The reserved occupation scheme reduced the impact, but the shortfalls were aggravated by the wartime need for increased production. The coal industry was so badly affected that in October 1943 the Minister of Fuel and Power proposed that a percentage of the men called up for national service should he sent not into the forces, but into the mines (alongside the conscientious objectors who, for religious or moral reasons, felt themselves unable to serve in the military). The proposal was supported by Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour, whose department took the measures allowing conscription of men for the coalmines: and his part in the scheme led to those called up being nicknamed ‘Bevin Boys’. The first batch were taken from among men born after 1st January 1918 and in medical category GI (fully fit); they were chosen by ballot, with one in ten of the 18 to 25-year-old conscripts being diverted into the mining industry. It was anticipated that they would undergo four weeks preliminary training, plus two weeks supervised training, and further specialist training as required. The men would become fully fledged miners in 12 or 18 months, although very few undertook work actually at the coalface, the majority working above ground. The first ballot took place on 14 December 1943, with a target figure of 30.000 newly trained miners by the end of April 1944. The first conscripts reported for training on 17th January 1914, in the coalfields of Warwickshire, Lancashire, Durham and Yorkshire. They came from all social back grounds and walks of life. As miners they were paid two and a half times as much as a private soldier - £1:l3s a week - plus a settling-in supplement of £1:4s 6d.

    Many photographs of working civilians in the 1940s show them looking small, badly fed, tired, and older than their actual age. Men like these had lived through the interwar Depression, when real hunger and shortage of affordable medical care left their mark. Wartime workers who also did compulsory fire-watching duties might easily put in a 70-hour week – while enduring disrupted and delayed public transport, broken nights, unappetising food, and the unavailability of a huge range of everyday goods. Given the dangers, anxieties and grief’s of war, it is extraordinary that morale generally held up, and unsurprising that some gave in to the temptation to ‘look after number one’ if the opportunity offered.

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