Bevin Boys
Bevin Boys were young British men conscripted
Conscription in the United Kingdom
Conscription in the United Kingdom has existed for two periods in modern times. The first was from 1916 to 1919, the second was from 1939 to 1960, with the last conscripted soldiers leaving the service in 1963...

 to work in the coal mines of the United Kingdom, from December 1943 until 1948. Chosen at random from conscripts but also including volunteers, nearly 48,000 Bevin Boys performed vital but largely unrecognised service in the mines, many of them not released until years after the Second World War ended. Ten percent of those conscripted
Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names...

 aged 18–25 were selected for this service.

Creation of the programme

The programme was named after Ernest Bevin
Ernest Bevin
Ernest Bevin was a British trade union leader and Labour politician. He served as general secretary of the powerful Transport and General Workers' Union from 1922 to 1945, as Minister of Labour in the war-time coalition government, and as Foreign Secretary in the post-war Labour Government.-Early...

, a former trade union
Trade unions in the United Kingdom
Trade unions in the United Kingdom were first decriminalised under the recommendation of a Royal Commission in 1867, which agreed that the establishment of the organisations was to the advantage of both employers and employees...

 official and then British Labour Party politician who was Minister of Labour and National Service in the wartime coalition
A coalition is a pact or treaty among individuals or groups, during which they cooperate in joint action, each in their own self-interest, joining forces together for a common cause. This alliance may be temporary or a matter of convenience. A coalition thus differs from a more formal covenant...

 government. At the beginning of the war the Government, underestimating the value of experienced coal-miners, conscripted them into the armed forces. By mid-1943 the coal mines had lost 36,000 workers, and these workers were generally not replaced due to the availability of cleaner work. It became evident that the miners needed to be replaced. The government made a plea to men liable to conscription to volunteer to work in the mines instead, but few offered and the shortage continued.

When December arrived and Britain was becoming desperate for a continued supply of coal for both the war effort and a winter at home, it was decided that a percentage of conscripts would be directed to the mines. The colloquial name "Bevin Boys" came from the speech Bevin made announcing the scheme:

Selection of conscripts

To make the process random, one of Bevin's secretaries would each week pull a digit from a hat containing all ten digits, 0–9, and all men liable for call-up that week whose National Service 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. Conscripts came from different professions, from desk work to heavy labour, and included those who might otherwise have become commissioned officers.

Working conditions

The Bevin Boys were first given 6 weeks of training (4 off-site, 2 on) before working in the mines. 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.

Since a number of conscientious objectors were sent to work down the mines as an alternative to military service, there was sometimes an assumption that all Bevin Boys were "Conchies", and, although the right to conscientiously object to killing was recognised in conscription legislation, as it had been in the First World War, old attitudes still prevailed amongst some members of the general public, with resentment by association towards Bevin Boys. In 1943 UK Government minister 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." The Peace Movement 1940–49

End of the programme

The programme was wound up in 1948. At that time the Bevin Boys received no medal
A medal, or medallion, is generally a circular object that has been sculpted, molded, cast, struck, stamped, or some way rendered with an insignia, portrait, or other artistic rendering. A medal may be awarded to a person or organization as a form of recognition for athletic, military, scientific,...

s, nor the right to return to the jobs they had held previously, unlike armed forces personnel. Bevin Boys were not fully recognised as contributors to the war effort until 1995, 50 years after VE Day, in a speech by Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...


On 20 June 2007 Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

 informed the House of Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

 during Prime Minister's Questions
Prime Minister's Questions
Prime minister's questions is a constitutional convention in the United Kingdom that takes place every Wednesday during which the prime minister spends half an hour answering questions from members of parliament...

 that thousands of conscripts who worked down mines during the Second World War would receive an honour. The prime minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

 told the Commons the Bevin Boys would be rewarded with a Veterans Badge – similar to the HM Armed Forces Badge awarded by the Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
The Ministry of Defence is the United Kingdom government department responsible for implementation of government defence policy and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces....


The first badges were awarded on 25 March 2008 by the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown
James Gordon Brown is a British Labour Party politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Labour Party from 2007 until 2010. He previously served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour Government from 1997 to 2007...

, at a reception in 10 Downing Street, marking the 60th anniversary of discharge of the last Bevin Boys.

Responsibility within Government for the Bevin Boys lies with the Department of Energy and Climate Change
Department of Energy and Climate Change
The Department of Energy and Climate Change is a British government department created on 3 October 2008 by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to take over some of the functions of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs...


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.

Other usages

The term was also used facetiously of or by entrants to the Foreign Office during the time Bevin was Foreign Secretary, 1945–1951.

Famous Bevin Boys

Sir Jimmy Savile
Jimmy Savile
Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile, OBE, KCSG was an English disc jockey, television presenter and media personality, best known for his BBC television show Jim'll Fix It, and for being the first and last presenter of the long-running BBC music chart show Top of the Pops...

DJ and charity worker "I went down as a boy and came up as a man."
"If that's what we were told to do by the country to save the country, that's what we did."
Jock Purdon
Jock Purdon
Jock Purdon , a poet and songwriter, was born George Purdon in the village of Nitshill near Glasgow. Although Nitshill had been a coal mining village, the mine had closed before Purdon grew up and it was a strange twist of fate that saw him spend most of his life as a coal miner in a pit in...

Folk singer/poet Purdon stayed on in the Durham
Durham is a city in north east England. It is within the County Durham local government district, and is the county town of the larger ceremonial county...

 coal mines after the war. "For me there's three great generals – Geronimo
Geronimo was a prominent Native American leader of the Chiricahua Apache who fought against Mexico and the United States for their expansion into Apache tribal lands for several decades during the Apache Wars. Allegedly, "Geronimo" was the name given to him during a Mexican incident...

, Alexander the Great and Arthur Scargill
Arthur Scargill
Arthur Scargill is a British politician who was President of the National Union of Mineworkers from 1982 to 2002, leading the union through the 1984–85 miners' strike, a key event in British labour and political history...

John Comer
John Comer
John Comer was a British actor best known for his comedy roles in the television series I Didn't Know You Cared, Last of the Summer Wine and All Our Saturdays.-Early life:...

English Actor Comer began his career as a Bevin Boy, before gaining an engineering apprenticeship
Engineering apprentice
An engineering apprenticeship is an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering or electrical engineering. A typical example is the apprenticeships formerly available at the BTH and EEC at Rugby in England...

 with Metropolitan-Vickers
Metropolitan-Vickers, Metrovick, or Metrovicks, was a British heavy electrical engineering company of the early-to-mid 20th century formerly known as British Westinghouse. Highly diversified, they were particularly well known for their industrial electrical equipment such as generators, steam...

. Later to become well known for his roles as Les Brandon in I Didn't Know You Cared
I Didn't Know You Cared
I Didn't Know You Cared is a British television comedy set in a working class household in South Yorkshire in the 1970s, written by Peter Tinniswood and loosely based upon his books A Touch Of Daniel, I Didn't Know You Cared and Except You're A Bird...

 and, from 1973 until his death in 1984, as cafe owner Sid during the first 10 years of the long-running sitcom Last of the Summer Wine
Last of the Summer Wine
Last of the Summer Wine is a British sitcom written by Roy Clarke that was broadcast on BBC One. Last of the Summer Wine premiered as an episode of Comedy Playhouse on 4 January 1973 and the first series of episodes followed on 12 November 1973. From 1983 to 2010, Alan J. W. Bell produced and...

Dickson Mabon
Dickson Mabon
Dr. Jesse Dickson "Dick" Mabon PC FRSA was a Scottish politician, physician and company director. He was the founder of The Manifesto Group of Labour MPs, an alliance of moderate MPs against the perceived leftward drift of the Labour Party in the 1970s. He was a Labour Co-operative MP until...

Former Labour MP
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

On his discharge in 1948 he went to the University of Glasgow
University of Glasgow
The University of Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's four ancient universities. Located in Glasgow, the university was founded in 1451 and is presently one of seventeen British higher education institutions ranked amongst the top 100 of the...

 to study Medicine.
Brian, Lord Rix, CBE, DL Actor/manager, and president of Mencap
The Royal Mencap Society is a charity based in the UK that works with people with a learning disability.-Profile:Mencap is the UK's leading learning disability charity working with people with a learning disability and their families and carers...

Rix volunteered to leave the RAF to join the Bevin Boy Scheme. "I have never regretted the decision," he says.
Eric Morecambe
Eric Morecambe
John Eric Bartholomew OBE , known by his stage name Eric Morecambe, was an English comedian who together with Ernie Wise formed the award-winning double act Morecambe and Wise. The partnership lasted from 1941 until Morecambe's death of a heart attack in 1984...

Comedian Half of the British comedy double act
Double act
A double act, also known as a comedy duo, is a comic pairing in which humor is derived from the uneven relationship between two partners, usually of the same gender, age, ethnic origin and profession, but drastically different personalities or behavior...

 Morecambe and Wise
Morecambe and Wise
Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, usually referred to as Morecambe and Wise, or Eric and Ernie, were a British comic double act, working in variety, radio, film and most successfully in television. Their partnership lasted from 1941 until Morecambe's death in 1984...

, Morecambe worked at a mine in Accrington
Accrington is a town in Lancashire, within the borough of Hyndburn. It lies about east of Blackburn, west of Burnley, north of Manchester city centre and is situated on the mostly culverted River Hyndburn...

 for 11 months, which may have affected his health and led to heart attacks later in life.
Peter Shaffer
Peter Shaffer
Sir Peter Levin Shaffer is an English dramatist and playwright, screenwriter and author of numerous award-winning plays, several of which have been filmed.-Early life:...

Dramatist The author of Equus
Equus (play)
Equus is a play by Peter Shaffer written in 1973, telling the story of a psychiatrist who attempts to treat a young man who has a pathological religious fascination with horses....

 and Amadeus
Amadeus is a play by Peter Shaffer.It is based on the lives of the composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri, highly fictionalized.Amadeus was first performed in 1979...

, he graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College, Cambridge
Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. Trinity has more members than any other college in Cambridge or Oxford, with around 700 undergraduates, 430 graduates, and over 170 Fellows...

Alf Sherwood
Alf Sherwood
Alfred Thomas "Alf" Sherwood was a Welsh international footballer. Between 1947 and 1957, he gained a total of 41 Caps....

Footballer Went on to win 41 caps for Wales
Wales national football team
The Wales national football team represents Wales in international football. It is controlled by the Football Association of Wales , the governing body for football in Wales, and the third oldest national football association in the world. The team have only qualified for a major international...

Gerald Smithson
Gerald Smithson
Gerald Arthur Smithson was an English cricketer, who played for Yorkshire between 1946 and 1949, his highest innings for the county being 169 against Leicestershire at Grace Road, Leicester in 1947. He represented England on the Marylebone Cricket Club tour of the West Indies in 1947-48...

Cricketer While serving as a Bevin Boy, Smithson was called into the Test cricket
Test cricket
Test cricket is the longest form of the sport of cricket. Test matches are played between national representative teams with "Test status", as determined by the International Cricket Council , with four innings played between two teams of 11 players over a period of up to a maximum five days...

 team for a tour of the West Indies.
Peter Alan Rayner
Peter Alan Rayner
Peter Alan Rayner was a British author of numismatic books. He was known by his second name Alan, rather than his first to avoid confusion with Peter Seaby, also a popular author, whose family firm Rayner joined at the age of 24.Rayner lived in Harpenden, Hertfordshire where he attended St...

Numismatic Author Rayner was conscripted into the mines during World War II.
Peter, Lord Archer of Sandwell
Peter Archer, Baron Archer of Sandwell
Peter Kingsley Archer, Baron Archer of Sandwell, PC , is a Labour Party member of the House of Lords.He was previously the Member of Parliament for Rowley Regis and Tipton and for Warley West, having first been elected in the 1966 general election until his leaving the House of Commons at the 1992...

Former Labour MP
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

Represented both Rowley Regis and Tipton
Rowley Regis and Tipton (UK Parliament constituency)
Rowley Regis and Tipton was a parliamentary constituency centred on the towns of Rowley Regis and Tipton in Staffordshire . The Rowley Regis section of the constituency was in Worcestershire from 1966 until 1974....

; and latterly for Warley West
Warley (UK Parliament constituency)
Warley is a borough constituency in the West Midlands represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament by the first past the post system of election...

. Solicitor General for England and Wales
Solicitor General for England and Wales
Her Majesty's Solicitor General for England and Wales, often known as the Solicitor General, is one of the Law Officers of the Crown, and the deputy of the Attorney General, whose duty is to advise the Crown and Cabinet on the law...

 from March 1974 to May 1979. Also chaired the Enemy Property Claims Assessment panel.
Sir Stanley Bailey
Stanley Bailey
Sir Stanley Ernest Bailey, CBE, QPM was a senior British police officer. He was chief constable of Northumbria Police from 1975 until 1991....

Police officer Former chief constable of Northumbria Police
Northumbria Police
Northumbria Police is the territorial police force responsible for policing the areas of Northumberland and Tyne and Wear in North East England. The service is the sixth largest police force in England and Wales. The current Chief Constable is Sue Sim who was appointed by Northumbria Police...

(Lord) Paul Hamlyn
Paul Hamlyn
Paul Hamlyn, Baron Hamlyn of Edgeworth, CBE , was a German-born British publisher and philanthropist.-Family:...

Founder of the Hamlyn group of publishers and Music for Pleasure (record label)
Music for Pleasure (record label)
Music for Pleasure was a record label that issued budget-priced albums of popular and classical music, although the latter were marketed under the Classics for Pleasure name...

Worked as a Bevin Boy at Oakdale Colliery
Oakdale Colliery
Oakdale Colliery was a coal mine located in the Sirhowy Valley, one of the valleys of South Wales.In the early years of the twentieth century the need for coal was growing both in America and Europe, and local business men in Wales were looking for new opportunities to fill the demand...

Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Nathaniel "Nat" Lofthouse, OBE was an English professional footballer who played for Bolton Wanderers for his whole career...

Footballer Went on to win 33 caps for England
England national football team
The England national football team represents England in association football and is controlled by the Football Association, the governing body for football in England. England is the joint oldest national football team in the world, alongside Scotland, whom they played in the world's first...

In popular culture

Jez Lowe
Jez Lowe
Jez Lowe is an English folk singer-songwriter. Lowe was born and raised in County Durham, in a coal mining family with Irish roots. He is known primarily for his compositions dealing with daily life in North-East England, particularly in his hometown of Easington Colliery. He performs both as a...

's song "The Sea and the Deep Blue Devil" is written from the point of view of a Bevin Boy who loses his girlfriend to a more glamorous Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

Huw Pudner and Chris Hastings have written a folk song called "The Bevin Boys":
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
Durham Miners' Gala
The Durham Miners' Gala is a large annual gathering held on the second Saturday in July in the city of Durham, England. It is associated with the coal mining heritage of the Durham Coalfield, which stretched throughout the traditional County of Durham. It is also locally called "The Big Meeting"...


External links

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