At 9.15, 50 years ago, perched high above the school at Aberfan in South Wales, after heavy rain a tip gave way and a 13 metre slurry sped downhill at 90 kilometres an hour, striking the school, just as they were preparing for the day’s lessons. 116 children and 28 adults were killed. In an instant, a whole generation was removed from a small town.
As a parent, having spent so many hours at the local school, it is hard to fathom what a loss this must have been (and the South Korean Ferry sinking). One of my favourite sounds is the sounds of children playing, which, when the wind is blowing in the right direction, I can hear the school. For that to be silent, tears the heart out of a community.
I’ve heard Aberfan talked about a lot over my years in this work, like Buffalo creek in the US (and similar circumstances). The loss of children, the outpouring of traumatic grief, the attribution of blame clearly at the National Coal Board, but nobody was held accountable, the increase in alcohol use, the mental health issues, the increase in birthrates, people not wanting to go to sleep when it was raining, and parents not wanting to let their children out of sight.
The appeal fund generated significant funds, but there were battles in how the funds were paid. Over zealous regulation by the Charities Commission saw grieving parents questioned on their relationship with their child to determine if they were worthy of assistance. The fund was also pressured to pay for the removal and clean up of remaining tips above the township, as the NCB deemed that they were safe and didn’t warrant removal.
When researching memorials for the Strathewen memorials, I came across the Aberfan memorial. A garden memorial, created on the site of the school. The memorial fell into disrepair in the 1980s, until it was restored for the 40th anniversary in 2007. The site was used as a playground and garden, to help remember the loss of the children.
From the reading I am doing, the emotions are as powerful today as they were 50 years ago.
This is worth a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-150d11df-c541-44a9-9332-560a19828c47
Ydym yn cofio: we will remember