A disaster remembered

Today marks the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies experienced in my home area of South Wales: the Aberfan disaster which saw the death of 144 people, 116 of them children. I was nine years old at the time – the same age of many of the children that were buried when thousands of tonnes of waste coal slid down the mountainside onto their school. It’s an event seared into my memory. The small community of Aberfan was just a few miles across the mountains from my school which was also in a mining town. What happened at Aberfan could easily have happened in my community.

Watching the news coverage of the commemorative events today was an emotional experience. Archive film shows the desperate efforts of rescuers to dig through the black slurry in the hope of finding someone alive. Among the many images from those days, this one has always stuck in my mind. The girl wrapped in the arms of a policeman was one of the lucky ones. She was found alive. Most of her classmates didn’t.

policeman-aberfan

An inquiry followed. To this day, although the blame for the disaster was laid firmly at the door of the people managing the waste site, (the National Coal Board) no employee or board member has ever been demoted, dismissed, or prosecuted.

A memorial was set up. By the time it closed,  nearly 90,000 contributions from all over the world had been received, totalling more than £1.6million. But instead of all that going to the bereaved and distraught families, it was used to make the remainder of the tip safe. Unsurprisingly, the community felt betrayed by the justice system and the political system. During my early days as a journalist I met some of those parents. I was struck then, and again today seeing some of them interviewed on TV, by how dignified they were in relieving those memories and of the betrayal that ensued.

blackriverIt seems a fitting day to begin reading a book that is based on the events of fifty years ago: Black River by Louise Walsh. It follows Harry, a journalist for the South Wales Echo journalist, who tries to protect the village of Aberfan from press intrusion in the run up to the first anniversary of the 1966 disaster.

If you want to find out more about this tragedy, the BBC Wales site is a good source. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources

 

BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

32 thoughts on “A disaster remembered

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  • October 24, 2016 at 9:28 pm
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    I’m glad it’s had so much coverage lately. I’m from Merthyr and I had family in the disaster. A tragedy. “Buried alive by the National Coal Board…”.

    I saw Black River in a new(ish) book shop in Cardiff recently, will be eager to read your thoughts on it.

    Reply
    • October 24, 2016 at 9:50 pm
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      It will have even greater resonance for you then Robert. I started reading the book last night – can’t say I am impressed with the writing style. Feels rather obvious to me so far….

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      • October 25, 2016 at 9:02 am
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        I wasn’t struck by the first couple of pages I read in the shop. I went with a non-fiction book on Aberfan instead.

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        • October 25, 2016 at 9:32 am
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          Yiu made the right decision. Black River is not well written at all.

        • October 26, 2016 at 9:38 pm
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          That’s a shame, I was hoping it would do the awful subject matter justice. I’ll check the review now, thanks.

        • October 27, 2016 at 7:02 am
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          If you’d like my copy I’m happy to mail.. But you might decide from my review the it’s not worth it.

        • October 27, 2016 at 8:26 am
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          Thank you very much for the offer, but I think I’ll pass. I don’t think I would ever get round to reading it! I’ll let you know what Gaynor Madgewick’s Aberfan is like when I start reading – it’s a non-fiction account of the day by Gaynor, who was involved in the disaster.

        • October 27, 2016 at 8:36 am
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          Sounds a good option if the writing style is up to the story. Hope she had a good editor.

        • October 27, 2016 at 8:43 am
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          I’ll let you know. Did you add the info about The Woman in Black by mistake there?

        • October 27, 2016 at 10:58 am
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          seems like the problems I had with the editor tool on iPad this morning were responsible. so will delete from my reply

  • October 22, 2016 at 6:31 pm
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    I grew up in a small city in southern Ontario, Canada and remember this event, although I was only 12 at the time and not what one would call a news hound. I think the whole world heard – and hurt for the people of Aberfan.

    I’ll be watching to see your thoughts on Black River.

    Reply
    • October 23, 2016 at 8:16 am
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      you’re probably a lot younger than me so wouldn’t have seen the coverage…..

      Reply
      • October 23, 2016 at 5:39 pm
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        I was born 5 years after this happened, but also the U.S. is terrible about covering anything that happens in other countries.

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        • October 24, 2016 at 4:17 pm
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          Sadly I have found that to be true on my trips. If its not anything to do with the Royal Family it doesn’t seem to get a look in. The British news is more worldwide in its approach thankfully

  • October 22, 2016 at 2:46 am
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    I had no idea about this. How awful!
    Thanks for sharing.

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  • October 21, 2016 at 10:17 pm
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    I remember it too, it was news here in Australia. I remember reading that villagers said that the worst thing was the silence without the sound of children playing.

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  • October 21, 2016 at 9:25 pm
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    I remember this. I remember that one parent kept her child home from school that day.

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      • October 22, 2016 at 3:47 pm
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        If I remember correctly, the parents received hate mail

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        • October 23, 2016 at 8:14 am
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          I hadn’t heard that. How shameful to target people already suffering

  • October 21, 2016 at 7:30 pm
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    I’m glad this has been on the news, we’re such a small country and I am constantly surprised by adults who aren’t aware of how most of a generation was lost. There were so many valuable lessons, and I wasn’t aware of the donated money not reaching the families.

    Reply
  • October 21, 2016 at 4:20 pm
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    I remember my mother crying about this as the news broke on the radio. We lived just across the border in the Forest of Dean, also a mining area. I didn’t know that the appeal fund had been more or less stolen from the families. Both appalling and incomprehensible.

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    • October 21, 2016 at 4:44 pm
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      it would have resonated in the Forest because of the iron mining and coal mining heritage there – plus the fact that so many of the inhabitants of the Aberfan community had relatives there.

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      • October 21, 2016 at 5:05 pm
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        Absolutely. Miners went where the work was. It’s a vivid memory for me but even more so for you, I’m sure.

        Reply

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