The Aberfan disaster

According to Wikipedia:the Aberfan disaster was the catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip in the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, that killed 116 children and 28 adults on 21 October 1966. The collapse was caused by the build-up of water in the accumulated rock and shale tip, which suddenly slid downhill in the form of slurry. More than 1.4 million cubic feet (40,000 cu metres) of debris covered a section of the village in minutes. The classrooms at Pantglas Junior School were immediately inundated; young children and teachers died from impact or suffocation. Many noted the poignancy of the situation: if the disaster had struck a few minutes earlier, the children would not have been in their classrooms, and if it had struck a few hours later, they would have left for the half-term holiday. The official inquiry blamed the National Coal Board for extreme negligence, and its chairman, Lord Robens, for making misleading statements. Parliament passed new legislation regarding public safety in relation to mines and quarries”. Today fifty years to the day we remember that event. One report begins: “Wales fell silent on Friday as the country remembered the Aberfan disaster 50 years ago. On 21 October 1966, a mountain of coal waste slid down into a school and houses in the Welsh village, killing 144 people, including 116 children. A day of events to commemorate the disaster included a service at Aberfan Cemetery at 09:15 BST on Friday”. And there are other even more poignant reflections (e.g. see here) …


When the disaster occurred, I was at school. I recall our headmaster (who was a Welshman with some connection) was devastated on learning the news and announcing it to the school. I recall we had our own memorial and raised money to help the victims. While I was aware of disasters, such as famines, wars and earthquakes in far off lands, were a fact of life, this was the first one I recall on such a scale that was so close to home (although many others were to follow later) and which so touched the heart of the nation, a tragedy that could and should have been avoided and if fate had been kinder or if things were done that we can see in hindsight ought to have been done, the lives would have been saved, as well acts of heroism and kindness, the dignity in which those affected tried to rebuild their lives, and the affect it had on the nation. Hearing about the events taking place today, brought it all back, especially the shock and sadness, even now, fifty years on. There is nothing we can do of course about the past, other than learn from the past, like some  of the points John Humphries made in the Radio 4 Today program, including misplaced authority needing to be challenged. We must pay our respects to those who died. I post this in sombre reflection, in memory of the 144 who died and to their families, some who are alive today and have their own memories of that fateful day.


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