“All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small
All things wise and wonderful
The Lord God…”
“I was told I should report here. What do you need me to do?”
“Shovels are over there, buckets are behind you. Dig or help carry it away.”
“Each little flower that opens
Each little bird that sings…”
“I’m sorry Mrs Jones but you’ll have to move back. They’re going as fast as they can.”
“I just need to know if Tommy is OK. He is OK isn’t he? He said he was feeling sick this morning but you know what they are like on last day of school…”
“The purple headed mountain
The river running by
The sunset and the morning
“We need this bloody rain to stop or more of it’s going to come down.”
“Then dig faster.”
“…the ripe fruits in the garden
He made them every one.”
“What time is it? Does anyone know what time it is?”
“Just gone ‘leven Sarge.”
“Over here! I’ve got something. Looks like a rugby ball.”
“He gave us eyes to see them
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty
Who has made all things well…”
“We need more buckets. The boys from Bargoed and Taff Merthyr say they’ve got their shovels with them but we need more buckets.”
“Off to your classrooms now boys. No dawdling after assembly.”
“What’s that you’ve got there Williams? New ball is it? You’ll have fun with that next week I expect.”
“Not mine Sir. It’s Tommy’s.”
“Either way, first step to the Arms Park is through my classroom boys so off you go now.”
“We found more. Five kids, one man. Teacher I ‘spect.”
“Are any of them…?”
“No. They were all in his arms.”
“Everyone under their desks just to be safe. Nothing to worry about, probably a plane taking a wrong turn. Jones! Williams! Bring that ball to me. You three girls come as well, there’s room if we all cwtch up. Let’s see if we can sing louder than that plane, ready? Nid wy’n gofyn bywyd moethus…”
Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of an event that still casts its shadow over South Wales. At just after 9.15am on the 21st October 1966 profound tragedy struck the small Welsh mining village of Aberfan. Persistent heavy rain led to the collapse of a mining tip, from which 150,000 cubic metres of mud, slurry and mining spoil slid down from the mountain above Aberfan, smashed through a farm and some terraced houses before smothering the Pantglas Junior School.
144 people – 116 of them children – lost their lives. Aberfan lost a generation.
If the slip had happened half an hour sooner the school would have been empty. Half a day later and the children would have been on half term holiday.
I wasn’t born when these tragic events happened but I know that my dad, as a then twenty-one year old policeman, helped in the aftermath. We’ve never really spoken about it but I know it is something that affected him deeply.
The characters in my piece are fictitious but much of the narrative is woven around known facts, such as:-
- The hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful was sung at the assembly just prior to the disaster.
- There is an eyewitness account of several children being found in the arms of a teacher.
- No one was found alive after 11am.
There are many other references that I will leave you to find.
To clear up some of the Welsh, the word cwtch is a Welsh word for a cuddle, and the words “Nid wy’n gofyn bywyd moethus” being sung to the children is the first line of the Welsh hymn, Calon Lân (which I included because it’s always sung before Welsh rugby internationals and it generally brings me to tears).
Nothing I write can remotely convey the horrors of that day and the days that followed. It is just my way of remembering a generation that, especially today, should never be forgotten.
Header image: By Stephen McKay, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46918507