Aberfan disaster: Tributes pour in on 53rd anniversary of tragedy

21 October 2019, 13:24

Tributes poured in for the victims of the disaster in 1966
Tributes poured in for the victims of the disaster in 1966. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Today marks the 53rd anniversary of the Aberfan coal mining tragedy which killed 116 children and 28 adults in Wales on Friday 21 October, 1966.

Tributes have poured in on the 53rd anniversary of one of Wales' greatest catastrophes.

The "completely avoidable" disaster "was one of the darkest days in Welsh history" that still haunts the village of Aberfan.

At around 9:13am on Friday 21 October, 1966, a slurry of coal slid down the side of a Welsh hill and engulfed all in its path, including a junior school.

The colliery spoil tip had been stacked on top of a mountain slope above the village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, and covered a natural spring.

After three weeks of heavy rain the pile of coal could no longer bear its own weight and it began its descent upon the unsuspecting residents below.

The scene of the disaster in 1966
The scene of the disaster in 1966. Picture: PA

The victims, mostly children at Pantglas Junior School, were crushed or drowned by more than 150,000 tonnes of thick black coal, shale and water.

A generation was wiped out and the village was devastated.

It was a national tragedy that prompted visits from the Queen and the prime minister of the time Harold Wilson, as well as donations from all over the world.

The Welsh Government has today remembered all the lives lost on this day 53 years ago and promised never to forget the devastation caused.

It said on Twitter: "Today we remember the lives of the children and adults lost in the Aberfan disaster, 21 October 1966.

"This memorial garden is a symbol of the resilience and strength shown by our Welsh community over the years #NeverForget"

A memorial garden in the village was given a makeover this month "and continues to be a living memorial of the precious lives lost on this sad day."

The First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford said it was difficult to put into words the trauma caused by the fateful collapse of the pile of coal.

He said: "What happened in Aberfan was one of the bleakest days in modern Welsh history.

"The grief we feel at the loss of so many, most of them children, cannot be adequately expressed nor should it be forgotten. We will #NeverForget"

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price wrote of how the country "changed forever" after the event and shared a poem by Lesley Norris about his friend David Benyon, a teacher at the school, who died trying to shelter five children.

He tweeted: "53 years ago today the children of Aberfan were starting their school day, and their community going about its business.

"After the tragic events of that morning, their community - and their country - changed forever. Let us never forget #Aberfan and all it means to Wales.

The MP for Merthyr Tydfil, Gerald Jones, who represents the people of Aberfan attended a remembrance service on Monday and said he was "humbled" by his community's strength in the face of tragedy.

He wrote: "In #Aberfan this morning to attend a Remembrance Service with local residents to remember those who were lost 53 years ago.

"I have always been humbled by the strength of this community, strength born out of tragedy but with a determination to look to the future.

Among the other locations devastated on that day were several houses and a farm.

Previous warnings about the tip had been ignored and the resulting fight for justice left many in the village feeling more angry.