“This was Very Funny, a Bevin Boy Playing at Being a Miner.” Humor at Work and Masculinity in Wartime British Coalfields

By Ariane Mak

This article examines workplace relationships between miners and the “Bevin Boys,” the young British conscripts drawn by ballot and sent down the mines between 1943 and 1948 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, this paper analyzes the construction of masculinity in the mines and class relations in wartime Britain. While the “Forgotten Conscript” narrative highlights comparisons drawn between the Bevin Boys and the hegemonic masculinity of men in the armed forces, in the daily interactions underground the focus was on the tensions between these new recruits and the model of hard-man masculinity upheld by miners. The multiple forms of mining humor expressed in the coalfields (the playing of tricks on Bevin Boys, jokes about these greenhorns, and initiation rites) are key sources that shed light on the way miners perceived Bevin Boys and on the construction of an archetypal figure of the Bevin Boy as the “unmanly outsider.”

Go to the article on Cairn-int.info