Remembering Aberfan

It is a day that will unfortunatley be marked forever in Welsh history and the community’s personal memories. The day that the colliery spoil spread down the valley killing 116 children and 28 adults. If you ask many Welsh people, Aberfan will be listed as one of the worst disasters to happen to Wales and for good reason. For an entire community, their future and their loved ones were wiped out in a matter of minutes.

It started days before, with constant rain and terrible weather beating the mountainside, slowly gathering to cause the spill that would engulf part of the village. The spoil (tip no. 7) was debris and unusable wastage from the local mine shoved onto the side of the mountain, laid there as they had nowhere else to put it. The spoil reached eleven feet high and, to many historians, was seen as a disaster waiting to happen. In the 1960s there were few regulations in place regarding health and safety procedures, especially concerning the mines and where they dumped their wastage. The spoil gathering water from the terrible October weather conditions was swelling and gaining traction waiting for the base to give way to slide down the mountain.

The destruction at Aberfan

Just before the local primary school was to have a half term break, the children of Aberfan were ready to start the lessons of the day when the spoil decimated the school.

One survivor Brian Williams recounts to the local paper:

I got up and went to school as normal. I always went with my older sister, June, and her best friend from up the street, Pamela. We called into George’s sweet shop, as we always did every morning, and then my sister would go the one way to the top end of the school and my class was down the bottom end.We got into class with Mrs Williams, who was my teacher.There was a bit of a kerfuffle because everybody wanted to be in the wendy house and I didn’t get to. So because I was having a bit of a strop I got moved from my seat by the door to sit by Gareth Jones to draw to keep me quiet.

If I’d been in my usual seat, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because the wall came down on my desk.

Brian Williams

We were sitting there drawing and we could hear a noise coming. And the best way I could describe it later on – because I’d never heard anything like that at the time – was like when you go to an airport and you hear an aeroplane coming in to land.I stood and I watched because I thought ‘if something’s coming I want to see what’s coming’.I just watched the classroom wall split from the bottom to the top.The wall came through and stopped. And the next thing I remember was it went very quiet, and then a lot of screaming and crying.

Then I saw Mr Williams (a different teacher) in the doorway. You could just about see his head from the gap of the door to where all the muck had come in.We were handed out one by one then to the caretaker. What you’ve got to remember with the caretaker here is he was getting us out and his two children had died further on up the school. You’ve got to think what was going through his head. We were told ‘get home as quick as you can’. But, of course, I knew as soon as I came out of the class that my sister was gone. You only had to look up the top end of the school and it was just… well, it wasn’t there basically.

The local men and women did not stop in their efforts to rescue the children and bring out the bodies of those who had perished in the disaster, families headed to the local church to identify the bodies of their young children. The community was devastated by this disaster, relying on each other for support due to the tragedy.

The National Coal Board was subjected to a national enquiry at the time, questioned as to whether they knew that the spoil rested on underground springs. The report placed the blame squarely on the NCB. Lord Robens, the organisation’s chairman, was criticised for making misleading statements and for not providing clarity as to the NCB’s knowledge of the presence of water springs on the hillside. Neither the NCB nor any of its employees were prosecuted and the organisation was not fined.The Aberfan Disaster Memorial Fund (ADMF) was set up on the day of the disaster. It received nearly 88,000 contributions, totalling £1.75 million.

Wales will always remember Aberfan. A day in which many innocent lives were wasted due to poor safety regulations. The graves are visited by the community on the anniversary of the disaster and Wales still mourns to this day. This was the day that the local children paid the price for coal.