Thursday, January 01, 2009

On christmas evening, Geoff and I were a bit fed up with the T.V. programmes so we decided to watch a dvd of our own.
The Morecambe and Wise show.
Always a pleasure to watch them and so funny too.
While we watched the dvd, Geoff asked me if I realised that Eric Morecambe was a 'Bevin boy'?
I said I had heard something about it but wasn't actually that sure of what the 'Bevin Boys' even meant. So, of course, after watching the dvd, on the computer I go, and am I glad I did.
It is so interesting. You would not believe who was involved with the 'Bevin boys.'

The programme was named after Earnest 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.

Earnest Bevin was born on 9th March 1881 in Somerset. He received little education and was orphaned at the age of 8.

He began work at 11 in the Bristol docks but soon exhibited an extraordinary gift for organisation. He became involved in the Dockers union and was instrumental in the creation of the Transport and General workers union,of which he became general secretary in 1922.

In the inter-war years, Bevin was, despite being outside parliament, a leading figure in the development of Labour Party strategy and ideology and was responsible for ensuring that the claims of organised labour were made central to the ethos and policies of the labour party of the time. His powerful speech at the 1935 party conference was responsible for George Lansbury's replacement by Clement Attlee as party leader.

In 1940 Earnest Bevin was appointed minister of labour by Churchill in the wartime coalition government, and he shortly afterwards became MP for Central Wandsworth.

This appointment proved to be one of Churchill's most imaginative and effective actions as premier.

Bevin succeeded in transforming Britain into a total war economy, in which all human and material resources were focused on the war effort.

This started what we know as the 'Bevin boys.'

Bevin boys were young british men conscripted to work in the coal mines of the United Kingdom, from December 1943 until 1948.
They were chosen at random from conscripts but also including volunteers, nearly 48,000 bevin boys performed vital but largely unrecognised service in the mines, many not being released until years after the war.

10% of all conscripts were between the ages of 18-25.

The Bevin boys were first given 6 weeks 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. They worked long hours and for many years, the dreadful conditions they worked in often made them ill.
They did not wear uniforms or badges, but any old clothes they could find.
Being of military age and without uniform many were stopped by the police and questioned about avoiding call-up.
Since a number of conscientious objectoers were sent to work down the mines as an alternative to miliatry service, there was sometimes an assumption that all Bevin boys were 'conchies' and , although the right to conscientiously objecting to killing was recognised in conscription legislation, old attitudes of discrimmination still prevailed amongst some members of the public, with resentment by association towards Bevin boys.

In 1943 UK government minister Earnest Bevin said in parliament:
"There are thousands of cases in which conscientious objectors, although they may have refused to take arms, have shown as much courage as anyone else in civil defence."

The programme was wound up in 1948. At that time the Bevin boys received no medals, nor the right to return to the jobs they had held previously, unlike armed forces personnel.

The 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 11.

In June 2007 Tony Blair informed the house of commons, during Prime Minister's questions that thousands of conscripts who worked down the mines in World War 11 would receive an honour.
The prime minster 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.

The first badges were awarded on 25th March 2008 by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, at a reception at 10, Downing Street, marking the 60th anniversary of the last Bevin Boys being discharged.

I cannot believe what those men went through, not just the terrible job of mining, but mostly not being recognised for what they did.

Thank god one of our Prime Ministers changed that.

They all sound as if they are very proud of what they did.

And so they should be.

Below is a photo of Earnest Bevin and a list of the more famous people who were Bevin boys in the war.
Personally, I think that the list of all men who worked as a Bevin boy should be put up for all to see.


Hogday said...

Hi Annette, as you say, a remarkable man and a remarkable list of high profile names in his footsteps. We could do with a couple of Bevin's in high places today, but the pool seems devoid of such talent.

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