50 years on, Wales falls silent to remember Aberfan’s lost generation

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IT WAS a disaster which struck a sombre chord with mining communities across the world, not least in Yorkshire.

A huge spoil heap above a little village near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales suddenly gave way, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

The graves of the victims of the Aberfan disaster in the village's cemetery in Wales, on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.

The graves of the victims of the Aberfan disaster in the village's cemetery in Wales, on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.

That was 50 years ago. As the world struggled to comprehend the disaster, the National Coal Board was criticised for “ignorance, ineptitude and a failure of communications” for not being alert to the fact that the tip could slip.

Most of the victims were children and teachers, suddenly suffocated in their classrooms. The Queen and then Prime Minister Harold Wilson were among those who visited the scene.

{\1.8193185|Video and timeline: How the Abferfan disaster happened|Video and timeline: How the Abferfan disaster happened}

Today, survivors wept as they observed a minute’s silence to mark the 50th anniversary.

The scene at Aberfan, Glamorgan, after a man-made mountain of pit waste slid down onto Pantglas School and a row of housing killing 116 children and 28 adults.

The scene at Aberfan, Glamorgan, after a man-made mountain of pit waste slid down onto Pantglas School and a row of housing killing 116 children and 28 adults.

About 1,000 people attended a memorial service in the Welsh village’s cemetery - the final resting place of those who perished that fateful day on October 21 1966.

Those rescued from the debris of Pantglas Junior School laid floral wreaths in tribute to their tragic classmates as the tight-knit community turned out in force to pay their respects.

The emotional service, attended by Wales’ First Minister Carwyn Jones, came ahead of an official visit by the Prince of Wales.

A minute’s silence was also held across the country, with shopping centres, schools, hospitals and law courts coming to a standstill at 9.15am - the time disaster struck.

The scene at Aberfan, Glamorgan, after a man-made mountain of pit waste slid down onto Pantglas School and a row of housing killing 116 children and 28 adults.

The scene at Aberfan, Glamorgan, after a man-made mountain of pit waste slid down onto Pantglas School and a row of housing killing 116 children and 28 adults.

Ahead of the anniversary, Mr Jones said the men, women and school children who tragically lost their lives should never be forgotten.

“It is a truly heart-breaking moment in our history and no-one who learns about the disaster can fail to be profoundly moved by it,” he added.

“Half a century on, I hope the country as a whole will come together, with respect and compassion, to pause for a minute at 9.15 am and think of the community of Aberfan.”

The disaster unfolded, following days of heavy rain, when excavated mining debris from the Merthyr Vale Colliery became dislodged and came thundering down the hillside on a foggy October morning.

The scene at Aberfan, Glamorgan, after a man-made mountain of pit waste slid down onto Pantglas School and a row of housing killing 116 children and 28 adults.

The scene at Aberfan, Glamorgan, after a man-made mountain of pit waste slid down onto Pantglas School and a row of housing killing 116 children and 28 adults.

Youngsters in Pantglas Junior School below were just getting ready for lessons when 1.5 million cubic feet of liquefied slurry crashed into the school and a number of nearby houses with a tsunami-like force.

Several survivors and the relatives of those who died have since said their lives were changed forever since the disaster.

Fifty years to the day of the disaster, they climbed, some arm in arm, up the steep hill to Aberfan cemetery to attend a memorial service officiated at by Father Mark Prevett.

As the sun shone directly on to the bright white gravestones of the victims, the community stood shoulder to shoulder in the cold with one another in an emotional and resilient display of remembrance.

Among those attending was Jeff Edwards, who was the last person to be pulled out of the wreckage alive.

Mr Edwards, who was eight at the time, had just picked a new library book and walked back to his desk when he heard a gigantic rumbling sound.

Speaking previously, he described hearing a sound like thunder, before waking up and hearing the sound of shouts and screams.

Also attending were brothers Phil and Alan Thomas, who featured in the recent BBC documentary Surviving Aberfan.

Several local dignitaries also paid their respects, as did Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns, officials from the emergency services and the town’s youth mayor Sacha-Neave Thomas.

Plaid Cymru’s leader Leanne Wood said the events before and after the disaster had changed the close-knit community forever.

She said: “The lives of an entire generation in the village were extinguished before they reached their prime.

“A whole generation of adults and grandparents were denied the chance to see their children grow up.

“Even half a century on, the facts of the Aberfan disaster are no less shocking and resonate throughout Wales.”

Ms Wood said the people of Aberfan should be commended for the dignity and bravery they have shown ever since the disaster.

She added: “They endured unimaginable sorrow but maintained a community spirit and built a support network within the village which helped get each other through their ordeal.”