Its strange how some days I don’t even remember what I had for breakfast, but October 21st 1966 is etched directly onto my heart, its the day the tiny village of Aberfan lost a generation.
I was only 5 at the time, I remember instead of changing shifts with my mother in their chippy, my dad left me in the shop, and rushed off. It was a confusing few days, there was talk of tips and children being trapped, while all the men seemed to have disappeared, and returned dirtier than I had ever seen anybody before. The horror of where they disappeared to unfolded as I picked up bits of conversations and saw the collection boxes pop up on every shop counter.
At 9,15 on October 21st 1966, the last day of term, and 15 minutes into the school day, Pant Glas school was engulfed by an unstable coal tip, which took 5 minutes engulf the school and wipe out an entire generation.
Aberfan was a little mining village in our borough, that fateful morning the, tip workers watched helplessly as the black monster slid before their eyes, they had warned the tip was moving, but were ignored, there was nothing they could do, that feeling of helplessness etched on their brains forever. First on the scene were the miners, most of whom had children in the school, its unimaginable digging for your child, or the child that was outside your house playing happily just 24 hours before. In this close knit community, everybody knew everybody else, it was a time when people could leave their doors open for neighbours to pop in, just one large extended family. Some of the miners had been involved in collapses in the pit, bravely having to dig their friends out, but this was a whole new scale of devastation, these were their babies, their grandchildren, nieces, nephews, the whole future lay below the disgusting black slime, sickeningly ironic, the industry that kept them all alive, had cruelly stolen all that was precious to them.
A few hours earlier, before the start of the school day, or a day later during half term, and although it would have been a tragic event as there were around 20 houses engulfed, but there fatalities would have been drastically reduced. No survivors were found after 11 am that day, and it took a week to recover all the lifeless bodies of the lost generation, who had just returned to their classes, after morning assembly, where they sang ‘All things bright and beautiful’ nothing was ever bright or beautiful in that village again.
The last survivor to be pulled out of the rubble was 8 year old Jeff Edwards, who went on to become Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil.
I had the pleasure of encountering Mr Edwards while campaigning to save the playing field as I marched 70 plus children into the council meeting, I was met with a look of disgust from most of the officials present, except for Mr Edwards who was at that time, head of the council, you could see his face change as the children marched in singing their team song, within minutes he was surrounded by the children, fully immersed in what they had to say on the matter, the seriousness of the meeting had gone, he was enjoying the company of the children. I didn’t know at the time, his childhood had been cruelly snatched away, when I learned of his past it became clear why he struck up such a rapport with the children, and he was true to his word to them, he fought for what they wanted all the way.
The beautiful babies were buried together on a hillside above the village, the lost generations together forever.
The sickening images etched forever on the the whole village, the memorial stones can be seen from the main road on the other side of valley, always a reminder of the day the blackness stole the future of Aberfan.
The village was visited by politicians and the royal family, and donations poured into the fund, even the notorious Krays made a hefty donation, a total of £1,606,929 which is probably around 30 million today was raised. Money given with good hearts to ease the burden on the grief stricken families, money isn’t going to alleviate the gut wrenching grief, but people needed to make a gesture, needed to help somehow, the amount raised should have been enough to allow families to move away, start again, or even take the remaining family on breaks, so for a short time they didn’t have to look at the horror that destroyed them, but all the families eventually got was £500 per lost child, some of the money was used to create a memorial garden and build a community centre on the site of the school, but the rest seemed to disappear. The NCB was found to be negligent, they were to blame for this tragedy, the tip had been slowly creeping for a while, but they ignored it, can you imagine how hard it was for the fathers to go back to work, digging for the same blackness that stole their future, for the same boss that murdered their children.
50 years on Merthyr as a whole unite in grief for the lost generation of Aberfan, and all still feel the anger, that even after taking away the most precious possession anyone could have, the NCB and the trustees of the funds, still managed to dig the knife in a little further. For many years the families put on a strong united front,there was a very strong sense of community, but when the government took their last little stab at the community and closed the pit, the village seemed to lose its purpose, the pit fed the survivors, but now it seemed them little angels died in vain, as the community centre crumbles and the garden gets vandalised, the feeling of loss is more apparent than ever.
God Bless the lost generation of Aberfan xx