Raymond Allen was born in Hollins Village, N. Yorkshire, in 1926. His father was involved in constructing new reservoirs so the family moved around on a regular basis. The family eventually settled in Broughton, near Kettering when Raymond was 9 years old.
In the World War II many young men were called up for National Service to fight for their country, but not everyone was considered for service and they were given other roles. One of those men, Raymond Allen wanted to join the Royal Navy, but was unsuccessful and he was ‘called up’ to undertake his National Service as a ‘Bevin Boy’.
Raymond, now 85 years, worked as an engineer when he left school at 14 years before he was called up for his National Service, in November 1944, to work in the coal mines. Raymond still has his National Service Card, his number being KDN8462 and was sent to Creswell, Derbyshire to undertake a 6 week training course. On completion of the training course Raymond moved to live in the Bevin Boys Hut, on Nottingham Road (opposite Preston Avenue), Alfreton, being allocated to work in Cotes Park Colliery. Raymond was fortunate to move after a few weeks to live with Rex Castledine, on Brendon Avenue, Somercotes, for two years before Rex became ill and he moved to Lea Gardens, Alfreton. Raymond lodged there with a Jack Clark until his demob papers were served in January 1948.
It was quite ironic that on his first day at Cotes Park Colliery as he walked into the canteen the first person he saw was an old school friend, George Snaith, who had been called up 6 months earlier. Raymond and George remained lifelong friends until George died in 2011.
Memorial to the Bevan Boys, National Aboretum
Raymond described Cotes Park Colliery, owned by the Oakes family, as being ‘50 years behind the times’. Although, it was tough work down the pit there was a sense of camaraderie and everyone worked hard. Initially, Raymond worked ‘ganging on the road’ taking the pit props up to the face by leading the pit ponies, then moved onto the load end, loading the coal.
Raymond remembers that the ponies were first to be alert to any dangers, even if the handler had not seen anything, such as props or other things had dropped ahead and the ponies would not move forward until the obstruction had been moved.
It was after about 12 months that Raymond moved onto the coal face to work where it was hard work often working in very wet areas particularly where the black shale lay. The walk to the pit face took about 45 minutes as they had to walk from the pithead at Cotes Park to the face, which was located under the Alfreton Miners Welfare. When this coal face was shutdown, he moved to the ‘Yardy Face’ where the pit was often no higher than 2 feet 3 inches. Life in the pit was always difficult often working in heights from 2 feet 3inches to 3 feet 6 inches..
Life in such restricted conditions was harsh and dirty, but everyone was in it together. There were no pit baths in those days and you walked home covered in muck and you trusted your luck if you got a bath when you were in lodgings. Raymond remembers taking his ‘Billie’ (snap tin) in which he kept his lunch. He was the only one to kept a watch in the tin which was stolen, but the local Police Sergeant, at Riddings, found out who was responsible and he was taken to court in Derby. The police wanted to make the man walk home but the judge insisted they brought him home by car.
Cotes Park Colliery cut coal at night and they were often large blocks as the coal, which had not been separated from the rock and this continued until the Coal Board took over the mines. Conditions were very rough and moving about 8 yards of coal (and attached rock) was extremely difficult working in the low heights of the mine. On one occasion a miner trapped his hand in a pit belt and it took Ray and seven other men 4 hours to take the man out of the pit, as they slipped on the shale and loose coal.
Raymond met his wife Edna, who worked in the canteen, whilst working at Cotes Park Colliery. One of the ‘winders’ who operated the cages was not happy that Raymond was going out with a girl from the canteen and once he got in the cage the man would remove the chocks and let the cage drop so that his ‘stomach came up to his mouth’. Travelling down in the cages was never enjoyable and could be dangerous. One of the regular miners was responsible for the pumps and they use to stop the cage half way down so he could get off and attend to the pumps. One day the man stepped off the cage to get into the passage missed his footing and fell to his death.
The pit manager was a man called Jack Parnham who was extremely strict and a man to be avoided if you were not doing your job.
Plaque inscribed to the Bevan Boys, National Arboretum
In the winter of 1947 it was really bad with the snow lying as high as the hedges. The Bevin Boys, including Raymond, had to walk from Alfreton to Cotes Park Colliery in the deep snow so they actually walked along the top of the hedges to get there, as this was the easiest and safest way.
Raymond finished his National Service in January 1948 and in March married his wife Edna Culley. They moved to Broughton near Kettering, where he worked on the blast furnaces, but Edna became homesick and in 1952 they moved back to Riddings. Raymond went to work at Pye Bridge, at Riddings Ironworks where he worked until it closed in 1956-57.
Raymond sadly lost his wife in 1992, but he still lives in Somercotes with his partner Flo who is proud that she is 89 years old.
It was about 5 years ago that Raymond became aware that the ‘Bevin Boys Brigade’ had formed an association and issued badges to those who had served. Raymond proudly showed me his ‘Bevin Boy Veteran’ Badge and his ‘The Bevin Boys Association’ tie.
Interviewed by Gordon Blackmore (26 October 2012)