The work of men who risked their lives down Britain’s coal mines instead of on the battlefield was largely forgotten following World War Two.
The Bevin Boys were conscripts who toiled to keep coal production going, but received no medals for working in dangerous conditions which saw one in four wartime miners killed or injured.
In 1942, two million tons of coal a year were needed to power the ships, powers stations and factories of Britain’s wartime economy - but just two weeks supply was left.
To solve the crisis, Ernest Bevin, minster of labour and National Service, decided that one in 10 conscripts would be sent down the mines, including Caphouse Colliery in Wakefield.
Seventy years on the pit - now the National Coal Mining Museum, is hosting a special exhibition, the Bevin Boys in Yorkshire, to honour their work.
John Etty was 18 and expecting to join the Navy when he received a letter ordering him to report for training down the mines.
The former Wakefield Trinity player said: “In 1942 there was a great shortage of coal in Britain. Two-million tons a year was needed due to the high demand from the war industry.
“They needed coal for everything.
“I was told I would be in the Navy in two weeks, but a letter came ordering me to go to the Prince of Wales Colliery in Pontefract for one month training in coal mining.
“We were paid between £2 and £3 a week.”
Mr Etty, 86, who worked at the Prince of Wales, Shaw Cross, and Caphouse collieries, witnessed several accidents as dynamite was used to shift coal during his time down the mines.
He described a frightening incident when a metal chain fell down the lift shaft, striking the metal cage. “There was this big flash of light. I was very shaken.
“They were working in very dangerous conditions. The casualty rate was one in four miners killed or injured.”
The exhibition features sketches, diaries and letters by Martin Hill, who came from Brighton to work in Yorkshire towards the end of World War Two.
It will run until January 26 at the museum on New Road, Overton, from 10am-5pm daily.
After the war Mr Etty, who now lives in Fleetwood, Lancashire, went on to play professional Rugby League for Batley, Oldham and Wakefield
He spoke at the launch of the exhibition on Monday, when he was joined by fellow Trinity players Neil Fox, Geoff Oakes and Ken Rollin.
Mr Etty added: “It is very realistic and showed the way of life for miners working underground. It is a true reflection of our experiences.”