The Government Took Over the Running of the Pits in Wartime
as it Had Done in the First World War
The Second World War had intervened in many new exploits in the mines and some would be closed through lack of development. The coal stocks had fallen to an all-time low and at one period was down to 3 weeks supply and there was a scarcity of certain grades. Throughout the country there had been a drop of domestic consumption of coal. There had been an increase in the use of coke, gas and electricity. The wholesale coal trade organisation was divided into 4 areas and the Midlands area covering Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and others came into effect.
A survey showed that 40% of men working in the pits were more than 40 years old.
The Government again took over the running of the pits in wartime as it had done in the First World War, but not the ownership, as there were many different Colliery Companies and this time only monitored the production, allowing the local districts to dictate their own terms.
Miners in various areas of the country came out on strike or worked slow to rules and threatened an all-out strike over a rise in money even though it was during wartime when coal was urgently needed.
On 24th May 1940 the new Emergency Powers Act had come into force effectively meaning that industry would be controlled by the Minister of Labour and National Service Ernest Bevin for the Coalition Government lead by Winston Churchill as Prime Minister with Clement Attlee of the Labour Party as his Deputy. There was a major reduction in employment.
From 8th January 1940, food rationing began and started with butter, bacon, and sugar and was followed by meat on 11th March.
Foodstuffs from abroad were now severely affected by shipping losses by enemy U boats.
Weekly allowance per person for tea 2oz (ounces), butter 2oz, margarine 4oz, sugar 2oz and fats 2oz. Extra cheese allowance allowed to workers with no canteen facilities and special ration for vegetarians who surrendered their meat ration.
Minister of Food WS Morrison rationed meat to 6oz per person per day (prime cuts).
In 1941 there was an appeal by the Government for thousands of ex miners to volunteer to return to the pits but many refused as the wages were quite low for the dirty and sometimes dangerous jobs underground, so there was still a big problem that seemed unsurmountable. Something drastic had to be done. By July 1941 Ernest Bevin instituted the compulsory registration of all men who had previously worked in the industry since 1935 which resulted in about 60,000 men being returned to the pits in 2 years.
During 1942 another idea was to give conscripts the choice of opting to work in the mines or join the forces but again very few applied, only 1,000 in the first 4 months. The output of coal for 1942 had fallen to 204 million tons and would fall to 194 million tons by the end of 1943.
Miners were now forced to stay in their jobs and others who had left to join the forces or other industries were being returned to the pits under the Coal Mines (Release) Essential Works Order. A miner could not leave his job without leave from a National Service Officer. Physically fit ex-miners were drafted back underground, along with some surface workers and guaranteed wages were paid.
All men from 18 to 25 had to register for service in HM forces, or alternatively were given work in coal mining or other important War work. However in 1943 there was still a manpower shortage in the mines and the much needed production of coal was falling even faster than before Ernest Bevin even broadcast to schools seeking boys to enthuse about going into the pit for a job. That idea never got off the ground.
The Essential Work (Coalmining Industry) 1943 came into force on 6th April. Some more experienced and able-bodied miners were fetched back from the forces to work in the mines as at many pits an older workforce was only backed up with young lads and colliers were needed to produce coal at the coal face. Advertising for able-bodied volunteers to work in the mines did not attract the requisite numbers needed to halt the downward trend of falling production of coal as many preferred to volunteer for war service sooner as they knew that under the present system conditions underground would not improve.
Training for new entrants into the industry was set up in 1943 under a special branch of the Ministry of Fuel and Power (including a special Training Inspectorate). 13 centres were set up in the various coalfields for the training of war-time entrants over 18 years of age. Several were in our area.
So to try to alleviate the mess the coal industry was in Ernest Bevin declared that in future one conscript out of every 10 would be chosen by ballot for the pits. Every fortnight a secretary would pull a number from 0 to 9 out of a hat and a conscript with his number ending with the one chosen had no option and would be directed to work in the pits.
Many of these young men came from areas where there was no mining and had no idea how coal was mined or maybe had never seen a Colliery and most would be appalled at the conditions they would be asked to work in. No toilets underground, that was left to a shovel upwind of the fellow workers. There was nowhere to wash ones hands before eating their mid-shift snap where the majority of the men took sandwiches to eat.
Many had never done any physical work before so would need to build up body muscle beforehand. Many families were utterly shocked by their boy being sent down a pit and petitioned for them to be released however only a handful out of the 40% who complained found work in a specialist field.
Bevin himself probably realised that the amount of coal produced by the ‘Bevin Boys’ as they began to be known as, would be small and many miners also thought that having to train a new, probably unwilling raw recruit who had a great dislike for the task given, it was easier to do the job themselves. The majority of the boys would put up with the job hoping that the war would soon be over and they could be released from the pits and either go back to the job they did when they left school or choose a new career. Some young men of course realised that despite the poor conditions and the low pay for the long hours they would do the job to the best of their ability and most succeeded. Some even stayed on to make mining a career and studied for mining qualifications with some actually becoming Under-officials such as Deputies and Overmen and a few became Colliery Undermanagers and Managers and even aspired to higher positions in the new National Coal Board vested on 1st January 1947.
However to get them ready for a life underground a course of physical instruction was begun, and Creswell in Derbyshire being chosen as a training centre with 2 weeks on the surface, mainly working on the screening plant picking dirt from the clean coal on a moving plate belt and casting it into a wagon below. 4 weeks were spent then underground in a training gallery being taught the rudiments of mining by selected personnel, many being experienced coal face men who needed to be on light duties possibly following an accident for example.
The photo shows trainees on haulage work clipping and unclipping tubs on a moving wire rope.
- The trainees in an underground class room. They were given a quick medical examination before being sent to a training centre.
- Miners’ Hostels were built mainly using Nissen huts to accommodate the recruits. Hucknall (for 150), Alfreton (200), Eastwood (320), Clowne (500), Worksop (450 app), Queens’s Drive, Nottingham (500), Mansfield, Forest Town (500) and Mansfield, Abbott Road (500).
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The purpose built hostels, Nissen huts with beds for 12 men, had lockers, lavatories and baths, there was a welfare centre and recreation room, dining room and food prepared by cooks) and they received an average of £2 10s (£2.50) in pay (at 17 up to 59 shillings (£1.82), and at 21 years old, 39 shillings and sixpence (£1.96). Most pits received their quota of Bevin boys and after the war they were “demobbed” like the servicemen but received no gratuity. Out of 22,000 conscripts nationally, over 2,300 were taken into pits in Nottinghamshire. Many rules were laid down, such as no disorderly conduct, drunkenness, gambling, betting, borrowing or lending money.