It is 50 years on Friday 21st since the Aberfan disaster. The tragedy devastated the mining community and the nation. The grief and anger felt at the time still lingers for anyone who witnessed this event. It is a time to remember that people should never be placed second to industry and profit.
Linda Yong was asked to write about a news item that hit her personally as part of a recent WEA course and she chose Aberfan and her short piece is a very fitting commemoration for those whose lives were lost.
By Linda Yong
When I was still at school we lived in a big old Victorian house. The house had two front entrances; the main door, and the servants’ entrance which was down a short flight of stairs that lead to the kitchen and parlour. The store cupboard next to the parlour was for the coal, which was delivered in hessian sacks that were emptied down the coal shute from a manhole-cover in the pathway. I remember the noise, the loud clatter as all the pieces of coal rushed down the metal shute. The dust and the smell; waiting for the coal dust to settle, even when the coal was damp from rain and the earthy smell of the coal when you opened the door and looked into the blackness.
No central heating then, everybody used coal, it was a big industry – an industry that in 1966 brought death to a small village in Wales called Aberfan. Penglas School and a row of houses along Moy Road were buried beneath a mountain of slurry and coal waste when No 7 Tip collapsed, slid down, engulfing them in blackness. Of the 144 who lost their lives, 116 were school children. On his next delivery to the house, the coalman wore a black arm-band.
Everyone watched their televisions for days, as they searched for the few survivors and recovered bodies. The desolate image of a man still in his coal-mining helmet, with a coal-blackened face sticks in my mind. I thought of my own father, an engineer fitter, with fingernails he could never properly clean because of the oil ingrained under them. My older sister was working too; her birthday fell on the day of the disaster 21st October. I was a latch-key school-girl and remember wondering; what would it be like if they came home from work one day and I just wasn’t there anymore? I thought of Mrs Jones our Welsh geography teacher, who took the week off from teaching school and when she returned, we girls never again referred to her as ‘Jones the geography’ out of respect.