Everyone of my age and older is able to remember exactly where they were when President Kennedy was shot, and so it is with another event with people from Wales, we all remember exactly where we were when we heard of the disaster at Aberfan, when a coal tip slid down a mountainside and buried a school and the nearby houses.
It was raining, and had been for days, travelling from school had taken on a new pattern, I was using the bus. I didn’t normally do this, I invariably walked home even though it was about two miles, but the prospect of arriving home drenched made the bus a comfortable alternative. As you know from previous posts I was madly keen on buses so travelling on them was something to be relished. To get home I’d first take one of the buses provided by the school, we had to pay though, and at the bus station would usually walk from there unless it was exceptionally wet and this day it was. I hopped off the school bus and jumped on the Llantwit Major bus that would take me as far as the first stop, I think the fare was one penny. As the bus pulled out of the station I could see through the condensation and raindrops on the window a larger number of persons than usual waiting at the newspaper stand and then briefly through a gap I could see the placard headline.
It didn’t make much sense, it said something like “School buried under coal tip, many children dead”, although the exact wording has vanished into the mists of time. I was puzzled and on arriving home mentioned it to my mother who had no idea what I was talking about. Unusually that day we turned on the television for the six o’clock news and then the full horror was revealed and we all sat in silence as the newsreader gave us the grim details of the unfolding drama.
On 21st October 1966, 116 children and 28 adults died at 9.13am when thousands of tons of coal slurry slid down the mountain and engulfed the school and neighbouring houses. Let us spare a thought for those that perished and especially for those that mourned their loss on that very sad day.
This blog entry has been updated on the 50th anniversary of the disaster to include a recent photograph of the Memorial Cemetery at Aberfan. Taken on 16th October 2016 by friend and photographer Neil Holman with whose permission this image is included.
Click on the above photograph to view on Neil Holman’s flickr site.