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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May, 2005, 05:52 GMT 06:52 UK
Reunion call for wartime miners
Pwll Mawr, Blaenafon
Bevin Boys are often known as the "forgotten conscripts"
Men forced to work in mines during the World War II are being urged to come forward as part of an appeal led by the Big Pit National Mining Museum.

Around 48,000 young men, who would otherwise have been conscripted into the armed forces, were sent underground between 1943 and 1948.

They were named Bevin Boys after Ernest Bevin, the wartime Minister of Labour and National Service.

Big Pit is planning an exhibition and reunion for the men later in the year.

Many of the workers, who will now be around 80, were sent to coalfields in south Wales and were vital to plans to keep the coal industry working.

They were seen as people who were frightened to go to war, who had refused, but that wasn't the case
Tony Barlow

One of Big Pit's guides, Tony Barlow, said that Bevin Boys were terrified when they arrived.

"They were in a different environment, a hostile environment, they were very scared," he said.

"They were made to work with men they didn't know, in dark wet conditions and they were frightened, very frightened."

Mr Barlow, who worked underground for 31 years himself, said the Bevin Boys were not welcomed by miners.

"They were seen as people who were frightened to go to war, who had refused, but that wasn't the case," he said.

"They were not given a choice whether to go in the mines or in the forces, they were told what to do."

He added that he recently took a Bevin Boy from Bath on a tour at Big Pit.

Former miners act as guides at Big Pit
Former miners act as guides for tourists at Big Pit

"He was telling me about working in an office as an office junior, and in a short time he was in a mine working, far from home, far from his family, and frightened," he said.

"He didn't like the conditions, but he was made to work there, he had no choice in it.

"He did come back here and he brought his wife back, because he had been suffering inside for a long long time.

"When I showed him a similar situation to what he worked in, he started to cry."

The last of the Bevin Boys were demobbed in 1948 without any medals and official records were destroyed in the 1950s, making it impossible for former workers to prove their personal service if they had not kept their personal documents.

We are hoping we can put as many Bevin Boys memories into this exhibition and preserve them
Kathryn Stowers

Kathryn Stowers, who is running Big Pit's appeal as part of events to mark VE Day, said they were hoping for as many of the men as possible to contact them.

"We realise there are a lot of Bevin Boys who have just been lost along the way," she said.

"We don't really know how many are still alive or where they are or who they are - we are just hoping as many as possible will come forward and tell us their stories."

Ms Stowers said a reunion on 24 September would be a chance for the men to share stories.

"That is the centrepiece of a two-month-long exhibition we are holding here and we are hoping we can put as many Bevin Boys' memories into this exhibition and preserve them," she said.

World War II miners hold reunion
11 Apr 05 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
War coal mine heroes reunite
09 Apr 01 |  Wales

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