Fifty-five years after Aberfan

It seems a long time ago that I last discussed Aberfan with anyone. In fact, I discovered that it is only two years.

In the last school in which i worked, each week during tutor time we had a word of the week. The word that week was “landslide.” Turning on the PowerPoint presentation, I asked someone to read the word and the definition.

The definition was the fall of rocks or earth from a mountain or cliff.

“There can be other forms of landslides,” I said, “once when I was six, a great big tip of rubble dug up from a coal mine in Wales slipped onto a primary school.”

“Did anyone die, sir?” asked one of the students.

“They did,” I said, “one hundred and sixteen primary school children died under that rubble. I know because my Dad was one of the rescue workers.”

I had paused, not knowing what to say next.

I pressed the button for the next slide in the presentation. I had not looked at it previously, it told the story of Aberfan. It told the story because the word of the week was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the Aberfan disaster.

One of the most profound memories from my childhood comes from those days after my sixth birthday.

My father is standing in the farmyard talking to my grandfather, the only words I remember spoken by my father are “they were exhausted.” My father is wearing dark blue overalls and black Wellington boots, which are covered in black dust.

During the years that followed, the background to that scene slowly unfolded.

My father had been a member of the Civil Defence Corps and had gone to help with the digging at Aberfan, where on Friday, 21st October 1966, the day before the half-term holiday, a coal slag heap had slipped, engulfing a farm, several houses, and Pantglas Primary School. 144 people had died; 116 of them schoolchildren.

It was years later that I heard the story of the Reverend Kenneth Hayes, the minister of Zion Baptist church in Aberfan.

Hayes’ son, Dyfrig, had been one of the children buried in the school. Twelve hours after Dyfrig’s body had been found, on the Saturday night, Hayes stood up at Zion Baptist on Sunday, 23rd October to lead worship. The church was packed, the congregation was comprised of those too old or too young to help with the digging and journalists from around the world. Kenneth Hayes led the service and at the end announced the singing of Safe in the arms of Jesus, before sitting in his chair and weeping.

It is now fifty-five years later, and if I read the account of what happened and watch the black and white television interviews with those there, tears still well up in the eyes.


This entry was posted in Unreliable memories. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Fifty-five years after Aberfan

  1. James Higham says:

    Excuse the ignorance but was this the Byrds’ Bells of Rhymney song subject?

  2. Ian says:

    I wasn’t familiar with the song, but looking it up, I see the original recording dated from 1957. It does seem apt, though.

    • The Bells of Rhymney was only the second 45 issued on the then new Immediate label – recorded by Fifth Avenue – just a year before the Aberfan disaster in 1966.

      I was a nine-year-old junior school boy at the time and later in life I developed close links with Aberfan via the churches and through my own initiative. I was privileged to do some pieces of artwork for the villagers (not the portraits of the children) and to meet with a few survivors of my own age.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *