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31 October 2016

Aberfan

Aberfan

 

  • Wales gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan tragedy 
  • 144 people - including 116 children - lost their lives when 100,000 tonnes of colliery waste engulfed the local junior school
  • This  tragedy was among the first to be shown on television around the world
  • Church leaders have been praised for their life-long work with those who lost family during the tragedy 

  Wales came together last week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan tragedy. 

On 21 Octobe 1966, nearly 150 people lost their lives when 100,000 tones of colliery waste descended from the mountainside into the village of Aberfan.

The debris engulfed Pant Glas Junior School and surrounding buildings.

Within 48 hours, news of the disaster had spread throughout the world. It was perhaps the first major disaster seen by the world through the lens of a television camera. 

Many people still remember exactly where they were when they first heard news of the tragedy. 

Wales was used to coal-related tragedies: the Senghenydd colliery disaster of 1913 killed 439 miners while the Gresford disaster of 1934 killed 266 men and boys. 

Aberfan, however, was different. It took place above ground and took the lives of so many children.One miner said: "Every time we go down there we expect that something will happen. It could be small, it could be a finger, a bad bruise, it could be somebody badly injured or killed, but we never expected it to happen to our children."

It was the rich seam of coal in south Wales that had given rise to the close-knit mining communities of the valleys and to their special sense of solidarity and spirit. 

That resilience would help them in their darkest hour and assist them in rebuilding their lives and the life of their community with courage and dignity.

A number of sensitively-produced documentaries were broadcast in the days leading up to 21 October. Survivors, parents who had lost sons and daughters and church ministers spoke out – some speaking publicly about the tragedy for the first time. 

The documentaries reminded us of the negligence of the National Coal Board and their failure to act on health and safety concerns that made this tragedy entirely avoidable.

Church ministers such as Revd Kenneth Hayes, who himself lost a son, Revd Irving Penberthey and Fr Patrick Kerrisk have all been praised for the work that they carried out after the tragedy to provide comfort, help people cope with their loss and to find hope in the future.

The National Assembly for Wales held a commemoration to mark the event during which time the presiding officer said that the Senedd was "a platform on which we can represent our nation's story… reflecting our spirit, our past, our present and our future".

For those survivors of Aberfan, their grief will be unique, but this 50th anniversary has provided an opportunity for the whole of Wales to remember lives lost and commemorate an event that is part of the fabric of Wales as a nation.