Aberfan - 50 years on

Sue Aldred

I once walked those bare hills
Viewed the valleys with their scars
Imagining the earth cry out
Leave me! Leave me be…

Her newer scars were brutal,
Earth’s bounty hacked and hewed
from yielding ancient seams
by extraordinary men.

For generations, entire families
toiled and died here, all for the black gold
that fuelled a revolution, yet made them slaves.
Never content, it took an entire school

And swallowed it whole.

One generation of the village gone
in a moment, smothered,
by sliding spoil and tailings.
That the coal barons left behind.

The old Welsh knew
of the springs underground
Where the tip grew ever taller -
Tall as a mountain.

Where the spoil and tailings
formed quicksand that, in the rain,
became an avalanche.
Not white like snow, but black…

…black as night, pouring down on Pantglas.
Twenty miles an hour and twenty feet high
Sounding like thunder
leaving silence in its wake.

Silent children, hushed birds.
Mute, poor Nansi stood in its way
Protecting her 100 children,
Their dinner money clutched in hand.

And later, at St Tydfil, at Bethania
Those poor small bodies
‘Crushed skulls’, ‘asphyxia’, read the reports
Imprinted in communal memory.

My friend’s father worked for, and
among, those lost dead children.
Two were found holding hands…
…all later marked by white arches at Bryntaf.

My mother cried for the lost children.
I understood nothing, until I was grown
50 years later, then understood the true
outcome of humanity’s greed.

The enquiry - ‘a graceless pavanne’ was
but a dance around the truth. Truth of
 ‘wickedness, ineptitude, ignorance’.
But no prosecution to soften

the trauma of survivors, parents, workers.
Traumatised before the term was invented,
before spin’s deceit was woven to protect
those who were responsible.

‘I cannot sleep alone,
I can’t go out to play’
was the refrain then in Aberfan.
Fifty years on it haunts me still.

On 21 October 1966, a slag heap from the coal mines collapsed onto the village of Aberfan in Wales. The mine spoil rished down the hill and engulfed a school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

Main Location:

Disaster Memorial Garden, Aberfan, Wales

Other locations:

The disaster at Aberfan