THEY were the forgotten heroes of Britain’s war effort.
But now, more than 60 years on, their bravery has been rewarded.
The Bevin Boys were reunited in West Yorkshire yesterday to receive special badges, but also to share their special memories of their wartime heroism.
More than 50 of the Bevin Boys were hosted at a reception at the National Coal Mining Museum where they received awards from Mary Creagh, MP for Wakefield and patron of the Yorkshire Bevin Boys’ Association.
Bevin Boys were young men conscripted to work in the country’s coal mines from December, 1943, to the end of the Second World War.
They were named after Ernest Bevin, the wartime Minister for Labour, who realised that there was a shortage of able-bodied men to work in the mines as many had been called up into the forces.
The Boys were chosen by lottery and found themselves deep underground at the age of 18.
Famous Bevin Boys include Sir Jimmy Saville, Lord Brian Rix and Eric Morecambe.
But yesterday the focus was on the men from across Yorkshire, now in their 80s, who kept the country’s fires burning.
They included Donald Goodge, of Lascelles Hall, and Laurence Wood, from Linthwaite.
Mr Goodge, 81, was there with his wife Marion. The couple have two sons, Andrew and Alistair.
Mr Goodge recalled: “They needed coal to keep the ships running and for the country’s factories and they turned to us young men.
“I went to East Ardsley, to a very old pit which had little mechanisation. I ended up taking the pit pony down the shafts, with an oil lamp round my neck.
“I later moved to the Prince of Wales Colliery at Pontefract. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but it was an experience and the experience I got did a lot for me.
“I worked with boys as young as 14 and when I left I realised I wanted to do something to give boys like those a better chance. So I went into the careers service and later youth service with Kirklees Council.”
Mr Wood, also 81, is an Anglican minister who retired in 1991 after many years in the church.
He served in parishes including Almondbury, Linthwaite, Longwood and Liversedge.
Mr Wood, who is married to Mary, was just 18 when he was sent down the pit. He recalled: “It was a big shock. I came straight from grammar school to a hostel where people came in at all times of the day and night and in all states.
“It was not very pleasant. The work was hard and I grew up overnight.
“But there was a certain camaraderie, a comradeship, among the boys. We were looked on with suspicion by the old miners, but after a while they put an arm around us and looked after us.”
Ms Creagh said: “Thousands of Yorkshiremen served as Bevin Boys and I am proud to be awarding the new badges. I am delighted to help mark their contribution. They were the unsung heroes, called up because of the desperate need for coal.”