Aberfan

How a school which petitioned for change; the coal board failed to act

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For as long as there were coal mines, there were mining disasters. On hearing the news of an underground explosion or a collapsed pit, the families of the men and boys would gather at the entrance of the mine awaiting news of their loved ones.

Yet on one October morning in south wales, it would be the miners of Merthyr Vale Colliery who would do something which no one could ever imagine; dig the bodies of their children out from under coal slurry.

On 21 October 1966, a coal tip from the colliery collapsed onto the village and destroyed the Pantglas Junior School. 144 people were killed, including 116 children.

The tip, which was one of seven surrounding Aberfan and loomed above the school, was weakened by heavy rainfall leading up to the disaster. Yet the families of those who lost their lives that day pointed the finger of blame at the National Coal Board and not poor weather.

The tip was much larger than regulations outlined and this, added to the fact the miners had contacted the board on the matter, created anger and frustration from the miners and community of Aberfan. A petition had even been started by the school in 1963 to get the NCB to deal with the issue.

Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip visited the site of the disaster in the days which followed, all three were moved by what they saw, and the stories told by the loved ones of those who had died.

Despite a decline in the coal industry as demand for oil and gas rose, the Merthyr Vale colliery still employed many men within Aberfan and the surrounding villages. In fact, roughly 10% of the population of Aberfan, Merthyr Vale and Mount Pleasant worked at the pit. Coal mining was the fibre of this area and most of south wales for centuries, it was always a highly dangerous industry.

Aberfan was a new kind of disaster for the coal mining industry. Tragedies at coal mines usually involved miners recovering bodies of fellow miners; Aberfan would force miners recovering bodies of their own children.

Of course, since the Aberfan disaster, the coal mining industry has almost completely disappeared. Yet those survivors and their families have not gone away. They have been forced to live with the experience of that day and remember how because of poor management from the coal board, almost 150 people died.

Children should never go to school and never come home again. The coal board had gone from being viewed as the saviours of a dying industry, which was nationalised in 1947, to an organisation which to many had blood of school children on their hands.

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I am a journalist with an honours degree from Coventry University. Passionate writing about politics, culture, sport, society and more

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