"As much as Merthyr is a fighting town, these people also have hearts of gold. I worked all over Monmouth, and then the Aberfan disaster happened! That was a very emotional episode in my life. I never want to see anything like that ever again! In my opinion, the tip should have been moved well before the rain got in to it, and the old tip came rolling down the hillside on the school and the walls just caved in!”
It was 9.13 in the morning October 21 1966 in Aberfan. The men in power had long been warned of the threat. Letters had been sent repeatedly from Merthyr Council to the National Coal Board. But the men in the grey suits were not listening. The South Wales Valleys were disfigured by slag heaps and dark coloured streams and rivers. Fifty years on it is different now the heaps have gone, the rivers and streams run clear but the men in grey suits are still not listening. They never do, power insulates, hates emotions and empathy.
The brave people digging in the slag tipped covered school understood that, At the inquest one father shouted after the verdict that “my child was buried by the National Coal Board “when we see on television the brave people of Aleppo digging amongst the ruins we should see what links us, with emotions and losses that we share. The grey men are still not listening. The grey men were the men who left the slag heaps untended, the rivers polluted, the threat to our children ignored. These are the same types of men who sell arms, ignore opposition and forget the vulnerable and weak. These are the men who reduce us all to commodities and cogs in the machine of the military industrial complex
Disasters caused by the Coal Board or the Bombs that rain down on our cities cause the same pain, the same destruction, the same loss and fear. We are all challenged today to look beyond our differences, to understand loss wherever it happens and to think how we would feel if it was our community, our family and our town. The truth is that authority must always be challenged, always made to account for what it has done.
A year ago in that fount of Facebook compassion Port Talbot Debate and Argue I was called “morally bankrupt”, “a cunt”, “a sad human being” and was asked why I had raised Aberfan. I give you a simple answer that to the end of my days that I will always will always be critical challenger of authority. I believe that so called “common sense” is just a statistical average designed to make us docile and unquestioning”. It is a response that prevents us telling truth to power. It is a means of self-delusion and prevents us seeing the long view that is the truth of how South wales has been exploited and made silent.+
Aberfan haunts me. It was fifty-two years ago. My Grandfather explained what had happened to a school in South Wales. I was an imaginative child. I thought about the events and they frightened me, I can still see the pictures vividly in the papers and on television.
And all these years later they still do. The Aberfan disaster describes the schizoid relationship we have in South Wales with the Coal Industry. There had been many warnings about the dangerous slag heap near the school and they were ignored. It was to the eternal shame of George Thomas that he did not support the people of Aberfan. It was to the shame of the Establishment that funds raised for the Aberfan disaster were used to move the slag heap tomb from the school. Thomas was more interested in toadying to Royalty than supporting the people of the valleys.
Perhaps what moved Welsh Labour to take some action were the fear of Plaid in the South Wales valleys. Gwynfor Evans elected in 1966 suggested that had the slag heap fallen on Eton or a school in the Home Counties more would have been done. It was no accident that Labour were run very close in the Caerphilly By-Election of that year and that S O Davie won Merthyr as Independent in 1970.
Political fear was one of the first impulses that brought change and began to shake South Wales out of its love for Coal. There had been pride in Coal but now there were the young sacrificial victims to the brutal Old Testament deity of the Coal mines. Those who call for clean coal and fracking should know that this old deity has not gone away
It was sheer political fear that ran through the Welsh Establishment for the last half of the sixties. The Western mail commented
“It was 30 years before a new Labour Welsh Secretary, Ron Davies, returned the £150,000 to the fund and another decade before the Welsh Government gave the fund £2m, to make up for the lost interest.”
Ru, the demand for a contribution was no less than the biggest insult in political history. A further cause of shame for the public authorities was the inquest into the 144 deaths. When it was opened a week after the disaster, one bereaved father told the hearing: “I want it recorded: ‘Buried alive by the National Coal Board’. That is what I want see on the record. That is the feeling of those present. Those are the words we want to see go on the certificate.”
The Ghosts are still with us as the Theresa May`s Government pushes and supports Fracking and we await new disasters. perhaps they will listen this time. I guess if an event like Aberfan happened in England it would be different The Nuclear Mud reflects the memories and fears of aberfan. Those who deny climate change travel in its wake. And the populists who deny climate change serve its pupose. The spectre of Climate Change refugees are its bed fellows and the ghosts, the revenants and the monstoities of Aberfan, multiply and haint us all. there are a legion of George Thomas like clones now who would sell us all out for a seat at the table of the multinationals and the strong men who inreasingly rule over us.
OH ABERFAN - a poem by John Murray,
I watch the timeless sun dip down
A golden globe – and yet
The hills of Aberfan disguise the tragedy that went before
The evening breeze continues to fuss around the valley slopes once more.
Upon the hillside that nature has covered green,
Man’s greed for coal had tipped ten thousand tons of scree,
Black dust and spoil washed by nature’s downpour,
Taking the souls of children, by their Parents, to be seen no more.
And yet the mountainside of latent death
Hovered, waiting Nature’s sluice to place the wreath
But this was known by Miners, memories had faded
Still the risks were taken, as wealth into the coffers cascaded.
Three score plus of Souls at their desks blameless
Worthless spoil built up an unknown stress.
Miss Williams led the two times table, shudders felt,
No more than that, a thousand tons of spoil began to melt.
It formed a fluid lake of death up by the farm, and on towards the school
The black tide raced, the gigantic pool
Swept on up its way until it burst through
The school’s rear doors and windows as its violence grew.
The children’s hats and coats were carried on into the room
Miss Williams was up to ten times two as death came all too soon.
Man’s greed flooded their innocent world to end their dreams.
There was no time for action to answer their plaintive screams.
The rumbling roar disturbed the hillside’s silence.
The tiny graves today make no such penance,
But men’s greed risks their fellows’ life and limb
To desecrate for gold our Nature’s gifts from Him.
When Nature does rebel and spew forth dust
For airlines to be grounded, and money lost
It’s only then that Bankers selfishly complain
And realise that their gold must risk no further pain.
Hillsides around the world are stripped,
To mine and take from Earth its precious stores.
Then comes the rain to sweep away townships
We do not learn whilst Death extends its claws.
In these days of computers and the net
We watch the timeworn efforts to resist the greed and yet
The seventh sin so deadly and mortal man
Always falls into the pit, remember Aberfan.
Heather Murray used to lead the community choir Merthyr Aloud. This has now been taken over by Tanya Walker – it is open to everyone. It rehearses at the Zoar (Soar) Chapel in Merthyr Tydfil on Fridays, 10.30 -12.30. This is located in the Pontmorlais area, towards the northern end of the High Street (CF47 8UB). Contact Tanya by email: email@example.com
They walked to school,
As every day.
Mist upon the Valley,
Followed clouds of grey.
Greeted by their teachers,
Every boy and girl.
Their lives around the corner,
Just their little world.
The miners on the hillside
A man-made mountain hall.
They only had an hour,
After their first call.
They didn't see it coming,
Only heard the thunder roar.
Everyone felt the earthquake.
All fell to the floor.
The men all raced to help them
from all around.
They crawled about in darkness
of the school playground.
We all feel the losses,
We all share the pain,
We will all remember
The day the ashes came.
The world is not as cold
as it was back then.
But in the heart of all of Wales
We will remember them.
The girls and boys who went to school,
Most smiling, all following their mam.
The village always feels them near,
At 9.15 am on Friday, October 21, 1966 a waste tip slid down a mountainside into the mining village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. It first destroyed a farm cottage in its path, killing all the occupants. At Pantglas Junior School, just below, the children had just returned to their classes after singing All Things Bright and Beautiful at their assembly. It was sunny on the mountain but foggy in the village, with visibility about 50 yards. The tipping gang up the mountain had seen the slide start, but could not raise the alarm because their telephone cable had been repeatedly stolen. (The Tribunal of Inquiry later established that the disaster happened so quickly that a telephone warning would not have saved lives.) Down in the village, nobody saw anything, but everybody heard the noise. Gaynor Minett, an eight-year-old at the school, remembered four years later:
It was a tremendous rumbling sound and all the school went dead. You could hear a pin drop. Everyone just froze in their seats. I just managed to get up and I reached the end of my desk when the sound got louder and nearer, until I could see the black out of the window. I can't remember any more but I woke up to find that a horrible nightmare had just begun in front of my eyes.
The slide engulfed the school and about 20 houses in the village before coming to rest. Then there was total silence. George Williams, who was trapped in the wreckage, remembered that 'In that silence you couldn't hear a bird or a child'.
144 people died in the Aberfan disaster: 116 of them were school children. About half of the children at Pantglas Junior School, and five of their teachers, were killed.
So horrifying was the disaster that everybody wanted to do something. Hundreds of people stopped what they were doing, threw a shovel in the car, and drove to Aberfan to try and help with the rescue. It was futile; the untrained rescuers merely got in the way of the trained rescue teams. Nobody was rescued alive after 11am on the day of the disaster, but it was nearly a week before all the bodies were recovered.
The above description is taken from Iain McLean, On Moles and the Habits of Birds: The Unpolitics of Aberfan, Twentieth Century British History, vol.8, Dec. 1997. With quotes from: Gaynor Madgewick, Aberfan: Struggling out of the darkness, (Blaengarw: Valley & Vale, 1996), p.23 (The bulk of the book, including the passage quoted here, comprise the author’s recollect