The Bevin Boys: War's Forgotten Workforce celebrates miners through art

Ted Holloway. Bevin Boys. Date unknown. Oil. 690mm x 840mm x 25mm. Photograph: Colin Davison. Copyright: Gemini Collection, Zurbarán Trust. Courtesy of The Auckland Project.

The Bevin Boys – War’s Forgotten Workforce is a new exhibition of artworks by four former Bevin Boys Ted Holloway, Tom McGuinness, David McClure and John Tipton. Running from 28 March until 30 September 2018 at The Mining Art Gallery in Bishop Auckland, the show commemorates 75 years since the scheme began.

It also marks the 10th anniversary of the Bevin Boys’ formal acknowledgement by the UK government. In 2008, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown awarded commemorative badges, featuring a pithead and profile of a miner, to 27 men who were conscripted to work as miners during the Second World War. This is where the title of the exhibition takes its name.

If you don't know the history, In 1943, Great Britain had been at war for four years, the mining industry had lost 36,000 men to the armed forces or other wartime industries, and coal supplies began to significantly decrease. The government estimated that there were only three weeks of vital coal supply left. Minister for Labour Ernest Bevin tried to persuade workers to sign up for a job at the coalface, but when they did not respond he was forced to set up a compulsory conscription scheme.

Every month, for 20 months, Bevin’s secretary drew numbers from his distinctive homburg hat. If the number drawn matched the last digit of a man’s National Service number, he was sent into the mines. Four out of every 10 men appealed against their assignment, with some even choosing a prison sentence in protest, only to find they were still sent underground once their prison sentence was over.

By the end of the scheme, 48,000 men from all walks of life had been thrust into the dark and dangerous world of coal mining. In response to their experiences, some Bevin Boys created art. Drawing and painting the underground world, which was unlike anything they had known before. While the war ended in 1945, many Bevin Boys were not demobilised until 1948 because of the continuing coal shortage. They went unrecognised until a national campaign saw them finally acknowledged by the government for the vital role they played in the war effort.

The Bevin Boys – War’s Forgotten Workforce runs from 28 March until 30 September 2018 at at The Mining Art Gallery in Bishop Auckland.

David McClure. Head of a Miner. 1948. Pen and ink on paper. 225mm x 235mm. Photograph: Richard Hawkes. Copyright: The David McClure Estate. Courtesy of The Auckland Project.

David McClure. Head of a Miner. 1948. Pen and ink on paper. 225mm x 235mm. Photograph: Richard Hawkes. Copyright: The David McClure Estate. Courtesy of The Auckland Project.

Ted Holloway. Timber Leader. Date unknown. Graphite pencil on paper. 170mm x 272mm. Photograph: Colin Davison. Copyright: Gemini Collection, Zurbarán Trust. Courtesy of The Auckland Project.

Ted Holloway. Timber Leader. Date unknown. Graphite pencil on paper. 170mm x 272mm. Photograph: Colin Davison. Copyright: Gemini Collection, Zurbarán Trust. Courtesy of The Auckland Project.

David McClure. Tunnel End with Miner. 1947. Pen and ink on paper. 207.5mm x 265mm. Photograph: Richard Hawkes. Copyright: The David McClure Estate. Courtesy of The Auckland Project.

David McClure. Tunnel End with Miner. 1947. Pen and ink on paper. 207.5mm x 265mm. Photograph: Richard Hawkes. Copyright: The David McClure Estate. Courtesy of The Auckland Project.

John Tipton. Doggie. 1945. Pen and ink on paper. Photograph: Richard Hawkes. Copyright: The artist’s niece. Courtesy of The Auckland Project.

John Tipton. Doggie. 1945. Pen and ink on paper. Photograph: Richard Hawkes. Copyright: The artist’s niece. Courtesy of The Auckland Project.

David McClure. Head of a Miner. 1948. Pen and ink on paper. 225mm x 235mm. Photograph: Richard Hawkes. Copyright: The David McClure Estate. Courtesy of The Auckland Project.

David McClure. Head of a Miner. 1948. Pen and ink on paper. 225mm x 235mm. Photograph: Richard Hawkes. Copyright: The David McClure Estate. Courtesy of The Auckland Project.