Our War Leaders in Peacetime - Bevin

The War Illustrated, Volume 10, No. 244, Page 438, October 25, 1946.

The Rt. Hon. Ernest Bevin, M.P., P.C. Became a Minister without graduating through the House of Commons. At the age of 59 he went straight from the polls into the key position of Minister of Labour and National Service, with a seat in Churchill's Cabinet and the job of gearing labour to the war effort. Today, as Foreign Secretary, he has a small flat near the Foreign Office in Whitehall, London, where he lives with his wife and their daughter.

His friends say that Mr. Bevin would not have achieved such eminence but for his wife. He has not always been as robust as he looks, and she has superintended his diet, persuaded him to go to bed early (he has always been an early riser) and in a dozen-and-one other ways looked after “Ernie” (her own name for him). She has travelled hundred of thousands of miles with him, from Scotland to the United States. During the blitz Mrs. Bevin remained by her husband's side – in a hotel in Whitehall. The Bevins find to pleasure in social life. Their circle of friends is small and closely selected. He himself likes after-supper arguments, but his overriding interest is the Trade Union Movement, and particularly the Transport and General Workers Union, which he played a larger part in forming.

Born in 1881 at the Somersetshire village of Winsford, his interest in politics began when, a lad of ten working on a Devon farm for 3s. 6d. a week, his job included reading the daily papers to a nearly blind employer. His parents died when he was a child, and his sister, who brought him up in Devon, wanted him to work on the land. But what he read fired his thoughts, and in his early teens he left for Bristol and worked in turn as en errand boy, page boy, seller of ginger beer and as a tram driver.

Remains a 'Working-Class' Man

It was in the latter capacity that he met his wife, a Bristol girl, thirty-odd years ago. Since then she has actively supported his fight for better conditions for labour. She remembers the day when Bevin joined the Trade Union movement and developed in street-corner oratory, the booming voice heard at international conferences today: “Better wages!” and “Better conditions!” He quoted Burns, whose works he read by gaslight in his room: “The real tragedy of the working-class is the poverty of our views.” In 1922, aged 40, Bevin became General Secretary of the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union. People who remember him in those days say he has altered little. He has, indeed, remained a “working-class” man and never seems to tire of pointing out this fact.

He had been General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union for 18 years when, in 1940, returned for Labour at Central Wandsworth, he entered the Cabinet as Minister of Labour. He did not cut adrift from his Trade Union work when appointed Foreign Secretary in 1945. He and his wife continue to work in the Labour movement. Given to ready, robust laughter, Bevin abhors class distinction: “If a boy can fly a Hurricane, he can also help to build the new World!” He likes reading, largely on social topics, and Burns' works (partly because Burns, like himself, was a working man). And he likes writing, though less for pleasure than as a means of setting down his findings. In 1942 he published A Job to be Done. Now he is helping to direct the country's footsteps into the New World.

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