This article examines workplace relationships between miners and Bevin Boys, these young British conscripts drawn by ballot and sent down the mines from December 1943 on in an attempt to put an end to the manpower crisis in the coalmining industry. Drawing on forty-three oral history interviews conducted in England and Wales with former miners and Bevin Boys, the paper sheds light on the construction of masculinity in the mines, and on class relations in wartime Britain. While the “Forgotten Conscript” narrative lays stress on the ways in which Bevin Boys were compared to the hegemonic masculinity of men in the Forces, in the daily interactions underground the focus was rather on the tensions between these new recruits and the hard man masculinity model upheld by miners. The multiple forms of mining humour expressed in the coalfields (the playing of tricks on Bevin Boys, jokes about these greenhorns, and initiation rites) are key sources shedding light on the way miners perceived Bevin Boys and on the construction of an archetypal figure of the Bevin Boy as the “unmanly outsider”.
By Ariane Mak