Monument honors 'Bevin Boys' who fought war in British coal mines

May 8, 2013 at 1:08 AM

ALREWAS, England, May 8 (UPI) -- A monument honoring the "Bevin Boys" who worked in British coal mines during World War II was unveiled Tuesday at the National Memorial Arboretum.

About 48,000 young men were sent into the mines after enlisting or being drafted into the military. They got their name from Ernest Bevin, the minister for labor and national service who came up with the plan.

Sophie, countess of Wessex, wife of Queen Elizabeth's youngest son, teared up as she hugged Harry Parkes, 87, a former Bevin Boy, The Daily Telegraph reported. Parkes designed the memorial, four stone slabs situated at the arboretum in Staffordshire.

Parkes said one of the toughest things about working in the mines is that he and the other conscripts did not understand why they were there. Many people assumed they were sent to the mines because they were conscientious objectors.

Instead, some were selected by lottery and others because of physical problems that might have interfered with military service.

"If you were left-handed you couldn't fire a .303 rifle, so they'd say 'send him down the pits,'" Parkes said. "The same if you were flat-footed and so it went on -- we thought we were almost third-class citizens."

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