With lack of experience and limited training, the Bevin Boys had to get used to the conditions underground of varying types of pits. I had to work in a pit that had not been changed much since the late 1800s.
The sanitation underground was nil, and this meant that the call of nature had to be seen to on the spot and disposal was by shovelling it on to the moving belt, to be lost in the coal. There was only one toilet above ground for about 200 men, and this was a privy next to the canteen.
The canteen was the brick Air Raid Shelter and the lightening was very poor. It was suggested that this was so that we couldn’t see what we were eating in the pies which we bought after our daily shift, while we waited for the pit buses.
I found that the miner’s “crouch” became second nature after a while, as did kneeling to shovel. I discovered that I had one asset which I had not really known about before, and that was that I was ambidextrous and could shovel and use a pick axe to the right or the left.
During my time in the pits, I was twice trapped when the roof fell in, blocking both sides of where we were working, but we managed to dig our way out each time, with other miners digging from the other side. As we were out before the end of the shift this was seen as an everyday hazard by the miners, and was never publicised.
Another time, a steel girder snapped with a sound like a bomb exploding and at the same time, the floor began to rise, a gaping crack appearing between my feet. I found myself being squashed between the roof and the floor, but fortunately this stopped when there was about three or four feet of space left. A very frightening experience.
In 1946, my shoulder joints began to seize up, eventually so bad that I could no longer dress myself and used to walk about with my hands resting in my coat pockets to ease the pain. Obviously, I could no longer work and my doctor reported my condition. After examination by four doctors, one specialist, a Royal Navy examination board, and six months hospital treatment as a day patient, I was finally graded as C3 and demobilised from the Bevin Boys, being classified as being disabled with arthritis. I received no pension.