I noticed in the news that the Bevin Boys have been belatedly honoured for their efforts during the Second World War. Some were volunteers, some drafted, but instead of the army, air force or navy they were drafted into a service just as dangerous (although a lot of folk simply don’t realise how dangerous) and even dirtier – they were the guys who had to man the coal mines to keep the home fires burning (literally). And it reminded me of my papa on my mother’s side, who was a miner and who trained many of those boys. A couple of years ago I bought a book on the history of mining which covered the region back home for my mum and dad; we were surprised to find inside a bunch of grinning Bevin Boys with the senior miners who trained them, one tall, broad, strongly built man standing out.
He looked like the Comrade, who we lost the other year, but it couldn’t be him back then… Papa, his dad. I only new him as an old man, semi-crippled from the work in the pits and missing fingers, speech damaged (of course he never got any compensation – slip on a wet towel and sprain an ankle today and you sue for ten grand, crippled in mining accidents then, tough) and we just don’t have a lot of photographs of him when he was in his prime. How like the Comrade in his prime he looked, grinning for the camera, strong, confident, young, smiling out at us in this book from across six decades. These men took the ‘dig for victory’ slogan literally, tearing out fuel for the war effort from deep under the bedrock of our islands, its a bloody disgrace they had to wait sixty years for even this tiny amount of recognition.