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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 March 2008, 19:37 GMT
Brown honours wartime Bevin Boys
Lord Brian Rix and Gordon Brown
The Bevin Boys' contribution did not receive the recognition it deserved at the time
Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has awarded commemorative badges to men who were conscripted or volunteered to work as miners during World War II.

Sir Jimmy Savile and Lord Rix were among the 27 men, known as the Bevin Boys, to be honoured at the ceremony.

Mr Brown said they did the country a "great service" and "it still makes us proud to remember everything you did".

Wartime minister Ernest Bevin's scheme saw 48,000 men aged 18 to 25 recruited for the mines between 1943 and 1948.

The Bevin Boys helped ease the UK's coal shortage and their contribution to the war effort has never before been formally recognised.

Mr Brown said: "The service that the Bevin Boys gave to this country was incredibly important and not only helped us to win the war but also to rebuild our country after the war.

"The Bevin Boys' contribution, like that of the Spitfire Women, the Women's Timber Corps and the Women's Land Army, did not receive the recognition it deserved at the time as honours were concentrated on those who saw frontline service."

'Dangerous jobs'

Sir Jimmy was a member of the Air Training Corps before being conscripted as a Bevin Boy.

Speaking after the Downing Street ceremony, he said it was a "tremendous surprise and honour" to be recognised for something, which had been "all done for survival and freedom".

The former Top of the Pops host told BBC Radio 4's Today programme about the job he "loved" and his daily rituals.

Sir Jimmy Savile with his commemorative badge at Downing Street
If that's what we were told to do by the country to save the country, that's what we did
Sir Jimmy Savile

"I was up at four in the morning, down at six and then a mile-and-a-half walk bent double underground," he said.

"And when I got to the coal face I used to put my hands on it and say 'Oh, that's been there for 70 million years and I'm the first one to touch it'."

He added that he was no less proud to tell people of his war effort than if he had seen frontline action.

"If that's what we were told to do by the country to save the country, that's what we did," he said.

"Some people had nice jobs, some people had not nice jobs; we had dangerous jobs but there were people with jobs far more dangerous than us."

Another celebrity Bevin Boy - former actor and Mencap President Lord (Brian) Rix - was also awarded a badge, which features a pithead design and profile of a miner.

He said afterwards: "I was a volunteer, there were quite a lot of us, and I quite enjoyed the experience.

"Yes it's overdue, but it's welcome. I think it's remarkable that somebody has even bothered at this stage.

"It was a strange job, but everything's strange in a war."

'Forgotten conscripts'

Ernest Stonestreet, 81, who lives in Peterborough, was an office boy working for the public health department when he became a Bevin Boy at the age of 18, in January 1945.

"I worked in a drift mine at Rhigos in South Wales. There was no electricity underground, it was pretty 18th century stuff.

"I started by hacking the coal out by hand, and when I turned 21 I would go in and repair the tunnels by night for the other miners, making sure they were safe and making them bigger."

Anyone who was conscripted directly into the mines, who joined the mines instead of the armed forces or who originally served in the armed forces and later volunteered to become a miner, is eligible to apply for a lapel badge.

A government spokeswoman said it was a "survivor's badge", and in keeping with the Ministry of Defence's policy on HM Armed Forces Veteran badges, it would not be awarded posthumously.

The ceremony coincides with the 60th anniversary of the demobilisation of the last Bevin Boys.

Mr Bevin, the then minister for Labour and National Service, introduced the scheme in response to an increasing shortage of labour in the coal mining industry.

Many regular miners had joined the forces, leaving a shortfall of able men.

But the men subsequently drafted into the mines have often been referred to as the "forgotten conscripts".

Outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed to the Commons last June that applications were being invited for the special badge.

The 27 former "Bevin Boys" who received their commemorative badges in the ceremony at Downing Street today were:

Lord Rix
Sir Jimmy Savile
John Ashwell, of Newark, Notts
Warwick Taylor, of Poundbury, Dorchester
Dan Duhig, of Botley, Oxon
Les Back, of Seaham, Co Durham
Tom Dunlop, of Torquay
Geoffrey Baker, of Deal, Kent
John Etty, of Fleetwood
Mike Banister, of Solihull
Ian Ferguson, of Bideford, North Devon
Raymon Benedyk, of Stanmore, north west London
Peter French, of Woodford Green
Ron Bown, of Wolverhampton
Alf Gaddas, of Northallerton
William Hatcher, of Andover
David Nicoll, of Arbroath
Keith Jackson, of Sheffield
Maurice Pearce, of Basingstoke
Peter Jackson, of Cardiff
Jim Pearson, of Mitcham
Eric Johnson, of West Mersea
Geoffrey Rose, of Fakenham
Colin Kirby, of Slough
Alan Stamp, of Wokingham
Arthur MacDougall, of Culcheth, near Warrington
Phill Yates, of Winchester

Veteran DJ Jimmy Savile on being a Bevin Boy

Special honour for 'Bevin Boys'
20 Jun 07 |  Politics
World War II miners hold reunion
11 Apr 05 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
Bevin Boys go back underground
14 Feb 03 |  England


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