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Aberfan remembered

I remember exactly where I was at this time (11am) 40 years ago, October 21, 1966. I was driving from Cardiff towards the mining village of Aberfan. The ambulance control had told me that a school had collapsed. It was a big incident but they knew no more. I should get up there.

As I drove up the valley roads the sense of the size of what had happened grew as I saw a TV outside broadcast unit and streams of excavators joining the traffic.

But nothing led me to imagine the black scar down a hillside, the ruins of the school at the bottom and the gap in the terrace of houses opposite. 144 dead, 116 of them children.

I was working for South West News Agency, based in Cardiff. I parked on the main road and walked through the shocked village to the scar. There were men digging. They stopped to listen for survivors under that terrible black mud. There was absolute silence. I do not even remember a bird singing. There was no-one alive.

I was among the first reporters there. Phones were being cut off for use by the rescuers. I found one still working in a cafe. It was the nearest one to the school and for the rest of the day the cafe owner served me tea and fed me as I filed copy.

The people were calm, too shocked to cry. The tears and the anger came later. My job was to tell the story. That meant talking to parents and I knocked on the first door, an outsider intruding.

A pot of tea was made and the mother talked. I listened to her memories of her child. Another pot of tea was made and I continued to listen. That was the least I could do. It was three-quarters of an hour before leaving to an invitation to return for more tea the next time I was passing.

There are many memories of that day and those following. The Duke of Edinburgh at the pit head walking towards his car to visit site of the school. A miner went up to him and told him to walk like everyone else.

For many years afterwards I could not bring myself to visit Aberfan again. And when I did, to visit the memorial garden, I felt like an intruder, something I did not feel at the time of the disaster.

For the testimony of the people of Aberfan read their words at the website devoted to the disaster. Those words are the real memorial to the 144 who died that October morning 40 years ago.

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  1. diana handley says

    this is a memorial site to the children ad adults who lost there lives on that sad day..please take a look

    http://aberfan-disaster.gonetoosoon.co.uk/

  2. Rob Skinner says

    Andrew
    Thank you for such a moving eye-witness account. My parents, Bob and Rosemary Skinner, were reporters with the South Wales Argus in the 1950s, covering the Rhymney Valley and Pontypridd amongst other places. The dangers of waste tips were well known before 1966: Dad wrote a number of ‘moving mountain’ stories for the Argus and other papers.