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From Discovery's Reference Library "English Without Tears"

Feb 10 2017 News >> Latest News

The Reference library at Discovery contains some 14,000 artefacts, including engineering firms' brochures and publicity material, magazines, journals and books. The article “English without Tears” comes from "Coal" (May 1948). Although this magazine has been digitalised and is available here there is nothing quite like holding a magazine and turning the pages.

The article describes how after World War II, with the ending of conscription into the mines, (the "Bevin Boys"), there was a requirement for labour in the mines. There were several general volunteer schemes for European workers, the first under the banner of Balt Cygnet had no provision for dependents and mainly attracted women into essential domestic work in sanatoria and hospitals. The other was Westward Ho which did accept spouses and children. Between 1946 and 1949 a total of 91,000 people were accepted on the scheme mainly from the Ukraine, Poland and Latvia with some from Balkans. Initially these volunteer workers were known as Displaced Persons, then European Volunteer Workers and finally in 1953 this was replaced by the term "Foreign Workers recruited under the Westward Ho scheme". The use of ex POW and foreign soldiers was not counted in this scheme.

It was hoped in 1948 that the scheme would attract 30,000 miners to Britain (though there was a requirement for 100,000). Those European Volunteer Workers who had no English and were destined for the mines were sent to the National Coal Board Education centres such as at Bottisham, Cambridge. Here their integration into the English way of life involved intensive course of instruction, which lasted eight weeks. In that time they had to learn to speak and write the language though with a maximum vocabulary of 850 words. This involved small conversational groups of 50-60 people talking only in English, supplemented by text books with simple line diagrams and illustrated text film strips etc. Watch Pathe clip here.

In addition, there was physical training especially with hand hardening exercises and for this they were encouraged to garden. Understanding and integration into the British way of life meant visiting the local towns but they were expected to retain their national identity by ensuring they celebrated their national feast day. The abiding incentive was the work through which they would be able to earn and buy food (there was no mention of rationing in the article)

Although there was need for large numbers of workers, by 1956 the scheme had attracted just 12 % of the expected numbers and less than other population migrations (a total of 10,200 (3,800 European volunteer workers, 5,300 Poles, and 750 Italians;) report in Hansard 1956)

Mark Bennett


Last changed: Feb 10 2017



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