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Call To See Fife Miners Honoured

8 May 2013

A permanent memorial should be established to commemorate the role of coal miners in Fife.

That is the view of veteran Fife councillor and former miner Willie Clarke who welcomed the unveiling of a “Bevin Boys” memorial in Staffordshire but noted there was no officially-recognised memorial in Fife to commemorate miners.

The Bevin Boys Memorial was officially unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire. It was dedicated to the men who worked in coal mines in the Second World War.

The memorial is for the 48,000 young men, known as the “Bevin Boys”, who joined regular miners down the coal mines in dangerous work to keep coal supplies flowing during the war.

Former miners and the Countess of Wessex were at the official unveiling.

Mr Clarke (77), who started work in the Fife pits at the age of 15, told The Courier: “The Bevin Boys played a very important role. I can understand and would support them being recognised. But I would also point out there is nothing in Fife to commemorate miners at all.

“There’s no doubt we should have something. There were boys in Fife who left school at 14 and worked until they were 65 in the pits and yet they’ve never been recognised for the role they played in keeping this country going.

“I knew a lot of lads who died in the war and a lot of lads who died in the coal mines. Of course, a lot died years later in their own homes, having contracted horrible lung diseases.

“Coal mining was more than a job for them and their families. It was a way of life.”

Another Fife councillor, Tom Adams (56), worked as a miner for 23 years. He said: “I would wholeheartedly back calls for the Bevin Boys to be commemorated in Fife. A lot of people were conscripted.

“It was Army, Navy, Air Force and then every fourth person was sent to the mines. A lot of them wanted to go fighting and were sent down the mines against their will but this brought its own dangers – especially then, when health and safety was nowhere near what it was towards the end of mining.”

Thousands of experienced miners left mines to joined the armed forces when Britain declared war in 1939. More than 36,000 men had left the coal industry by the summer of 1943.

The British Government decided it needed around 40,000 men to take their places – the “Bevin Boys”.

In December 1943 the Labour and National Service Minister, Ernest Bevin, devised a scheme whereby a ballot took place to put a proportion of conscripts into the collieries rather than the armed forces. Men also volunteered for the service in the coal mines rather than military work.

It is thought around 5,000 miners lost their lives during the war