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ABERFAN 21 October 1966

This entry replaces that of ‘The Miner’ in my previous books on ‘Great Welshmen’. As of completing this work in July 2015 there has been no movement to commemorate the horrifying moments of Aberfan and its terrible consequences. Perhaps such events should be swept under the carpet, but in England the Hillsborough and Bradford football disasters of 1989 and 1985 have been remembered publicly in 2014 and 2015, with a combined total of 152 dead. The Labour Government was responsible for 144 deaths at Aberfan, and still Welsh Labour hopes it is forgotten. If Aberfan had happened in England, it would be a national shrine, commemorated every year. The Welsh still seem to be treated as, and accept being treated as, second-class citizens. The Welsh keep accepting whatever is thrown at the nation, lacking any political leaders to unite against wrongs.

In 1961 No 7 Pantglas Tip had been started, on top of a mountain stream, next to six other slag heaps on boggy ground on the side of a hill. Directly underneath it was Pantglas School. There were local protests at the time. No 7 Pantglas Tip grew quickly. The National Coal Board - a nameless, faceless, ignorant bureaucracy - used the dangerous site to deposit ‘tailings’, tiny particles of coal and ash. In 1963 a Merthyr Council official wrote to the National Coal Board: ‘You are no doubt aware that tips at Merthyr Vale tower above the Pantglas area and if they were to move a very serious situation would accrue.’ When wet, tailings formed a consistency identical to quicksand.

On 21 October 1966, after three inches of rain in the week, men working on No 7 Pantglas Tip arrived at work at 7.30 am. A 30-foot crater had developed in the centre of the tip. At 9 am, the tip slowly started moving. At 9.15, within seconds it rolled down the hillside, over twenty sheep, covered some walkers on the canal bank, smashed through 8 terraced houses in Moy Road, and buried the village school

On 21 October 1966, it took five minutes for the coal tip above Aberfan to slide down the mountain and engulf a farm, 20 terraced houses and a school. Children at Pantglas Junior School were just beginning their first lessons of the last day of term. A landslide of slurry, up to 40 feet high, smashed into their classrooms. Some children were able to escape, but 116 infants were killed. There was no counselling for the survivors and families of those who died. The tip had been placed upon known springs, and the Labour Government immediately took money from the disaster appeal funds donated by the public. No one in the National Coal Board lost his job, despite a damning report. The shame of the story of Aberfan seems to have been quietly airbrushed from history. It is the saddest place in Wales.

It was just 3 hours before the half term holiday was to begin at Pantglas Junior School, Aberfan. One in two families in the village was bereaved. 116 children and 28 adults, including 5 teachers, were crushed. The deputy headmaster was uncovered, and seen to have tried to use the blackboard to shelter the children in his class - all 34 were killed. A lady in the village recalled: ‘See those rows of white arches? Each one’s a child’. One of the rescue workers recounted: ‘My supervisor called me out of the mine and we went to help. A farmhouse near the school had been pushed right through it.  I didn’t cry until I saw them bring a little baby from the farmhouse, suffocated by the dust.’ Apart from the baby, the village lost a three year old, 7 seven year olds, 25 eight year olds, 35 nine year olds, 35 ten year olds, 5 eleven year olds, 1 twelve year old, 3 thirteen year olds and 3 fourteen year olds.

Most villagers will still not talk about it. Mothers died of broken hearts. Front rooms are their children’s shrines. The greatly honoured Chairman of the NCB, Lord Robens, immediately lied that it was not known that the tip was placed on a stream. An Appeal Fund raised £1.75 million from the British public. The National Coal Board asked for £250,000 from it and accepted £150,000, to meet the costs of clearing the remaining slurry from the hilltops around the town. The families of the bereaved were offered £500 each, regardless of how many children the National Coal Board had killed.

Eventually, the generous NCB gave £1,500 per family, deducted from the Appeal Money it had disgracefully taken, from the disaster fund raised by the public. Other parts of the fund were used to build a new, necessarily smaller, school and make a memorial cemetery. No one in the National Coal Board lost his job, despite a damning report. The shame of the story of Aberfan seems to have been quietly airbrushed from history. This is the saddest place in Wales. The 4,236 page enquiry was the start of legislation to supposedly remove all tips from the edges of mining villages. The mine closed in 1989. As part of her Jubilee celebrations in April 2012, Queen Elizabeth visited Aberfan. In 1966, she did not visit until nine days after the event. One believes that if a disaster on such a scale had occurred in Surrey or Hampshire, the Queen might have found an earlier space in her social diary, but she was probably advised to stay away in the immediate aftermath of clearing the horrors of the site. There was never any counselling for the traumatised parents and children who survived..

Some readers may think that this entry upon Aberfan was given too much prominence in a book upon great Welshmen, but mining is part of Welsh heritage since the copper, silver and gold mines of pre-Roman times, and events like this have shaped the Welsh view of the world. Cockneys and Geordies and Irish all have different perspectives on their regions, but the Welsh viewpoint is particularly affected by grief and oppression. If any Welshman did not shed a tear over Aberfan, it is difficult for him to understand Welsh history and heritage.

In 2001, on BBC Radio Wales, I was promoting my 100 Great Welshmen, in a 3-way link with Gareth Edwards and Tanni Grey-Thompson, when a caller said that I should have included the former Speaker of the House of Commons, George Thomas, aka Viscount Tonypandy, in the book. I replied, fairly soberly, that it was not his sexual persuasion which had led to his exclusion, but the fact that no resident of Aberfan would think that he should be anywhere near a book about great Welshmen.

In secret Cabinet Papers, released in 1996 under the 30-year rule, it had been revealed that it was George Thomas's recommendation that the publicly raised fund for the villagers should be used by the Labour government to clear the coal-tips. A producer at the BBC congratulated me after the programme, stating that the BBC Wales top brass always laid out the red carpet a special welcome for Thomas, treating him like royalty on his visits. BBC Llandaff ‘went into melt-down’ in the words of another BBC worker. I could never, ever understand the near-hagiography of Thomas's admirers, even before the news of his betrayal was released – apart from his sexual deviations involving children, he was a deeply devious, anti-nationalist, Royalist sycophant, and the very antithesis of a Socialist.

Only in 1997, after 30 years of campaigning by Plaid Cymru, did the Labour Government repay the money into the fund. However, it did not repay the £3,000,000 it was worth after 30 years of inflation, only the original £150,000. This money was paid back to the charity fund in 1997 by the newly appointed Secretary of State for Wales Ron Davies, who was quoted as saying: ‘It was a wrong perpetrated by a previous government – a Labour secretary of state. I regarded it as an embarrassment. It was a wrong that needed to be righted.’ There was obviously no apology as it was an ‘embarrassment’.

This terrible event, when a whole school was wiped out, seems to have been airbrushed from British history. Today, few people under forty have ever heard of Aberfan, the greatest tragedy to hit the British people since the Second World War. (In the Lockerbie plane bombing in 1988, 270 passengers were killed, of which just 43 were British citizens). No blame was attached to anyone involved for Aberfan – politicians, the National Coal Board, anyone – and no apology has ever been given to the people of Aberfan. If the disaster had happened in Nottingham or Metz or anywhere else in Europe, it would be a place of pilgrimage. The disaster has been so effectively covered up that it is passing from both written history and human remembrance.

As a footnote, on the evening of the disaster of 31 October, the National Coal Board’s chairman, Lord ‘Alf’ Robens, celebrated his installation as Chancellor of the University of Surrey at a party. This uneducated ‘Lord’ began his career as an errand-boy. Miners at the same time were desperately working under floodlights hoping to find survivors, but only digging out the bodies of children. They used their bloodied, bare hands to dig, instead of picks and shovels as they did not wish to harm any body they found.

Initially the National Coal Board tried to minimise its responsibility by offering £50 compensation to each of the bereaved families (- 2023’s value is just £2,335!) It later settled for what it called a ‘generous settlement’ of £500 for every child killed (- just £23,350 in today’s value). As noted above, Lord Robens ensured that the NCB recovered nearly all this compensation money by taking £150,000 from the Aberfan Disaster Fund to pay for the removal of the remaining coal tips. Under the 30 years rule, it was also discovered that the NCB exaggerated the cost of removing the tips, and also deliberately obstructed a private contractor’s offer to do the work far more cheaply. The 1967 Report on the disaster was devastating, but as usual in Britain, no-one was made to suffer, only the villagers: ‘The Aberfan Disaster is a terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude by many men charged with tasks for which they were totally unfitted, of failure to heed clear warnings and of total lack of direction from above.’

More information has emerged from a 1999 study by Nuffield College, Oxford, sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council. Professor Iain McLean stated: ‘The Charity Commission and outdated charity law obstructed the Aberfan Disaster Fund in its attempts to help bereaved parents and other victims. At one point the Charity Commission wanted to insist that the fund should only pay grants to those parents shown to have been close to their dead children.’ Please re-read that last sentence – the Charity Commission wanted in effect to set up a slide rule and put grieving parents under scrutiny to see who deserved what from the deaths of their children. The Commission also stopped any payments being made to families where children were not injured. The Commission would not back the trustees of the Disaster Fund, who wanted the Labour government to remove the remaining dangerous tips overlooking their village. Thus the trustees were literally forced to hand over the exaggerated cost of £150,000 for the removal of those slag-heaps.

Jeff Edwards, a magistrate, was a survivor when the school was covered, and stated in 1999 that it was 20 years before his family received any payment. He had seen his classmates die. In other cases, many families received nothing. He stated, ‘Parents of uninjured children also went through the trauma – they had to live with the sleepless nights, the nightmares and the tantrums for years afterwards.’ There is a collective consciousness that wants to forget Aberfan – to forget means that it will be repeated, and some politician or official will yet again be in the media stating the pathetic and perpetual mantra that ‘Lessons will be learnt’. To forget something like Aberfan means that the guilty will always escape justice. To forget breaks one’s ties with truth and honesty and means colluding with the perpetrators of injustice. To forget means that those who died meant nothing. Some may believe that this is an over-long entry in this book, but the purpose of historical non-fiction is not to regurgitate other books, but to question the given version of events and to highlight what is being deliberately lost.

The following poem describes some Welsh mining disasters along with Aberfan and was published in my The Path To Inexperience in 2002. Even then there had been consistent rumours about George Thomas’ paedophilic tendencies, shared with other political leaders of his era. He is still ‘honoured’ in Wales, with his name until as recently as 2017 attached to the George Thomas Hospice. He was ennobled as Lord Tonypandy.

(Footnote – in 2016 the 50th anniversary of Aberfan was given prominence on BBC Wales, but hardly noted on national BBC, a documentary being shunted to later at night. I had an email argument with the main BBC News newsreader Huw Edwards, who disagreed with me. I was however correct in that national coverage was muted, compared to that in Wales. One only has to check TV programming for 21 October 2016. The Hillsborough football disaster of 1989, with 89 deaths, however, has had much coverage over the years. ‘One rule for the rulers’, one supposes. I saw the landslide a few months after it happened, and it was not until decades later that I could write about it without crying.)


For the sculptured novelist and bon viveur Martin Amis, as quoted in discussion with A.N. Wilson, The London Evening Standard, 17 July 1991… this was before he spent over £20,000 upon having his rotten teeth transformed into humanoid ones and left his wife for a younger model… To joke about Aberfan is not the action of any civilized human being… ‘The South Waleyans are a particularly bitter and deracinated breed”. He began a bad-taste joke about Aberfan causing a “ripple of pleasure” through the mining valleys, but he choked it back with a giggle...Martin does the Welsh voice with an accuracy which reflects real loathing’. (Amis has since died in 1923 aged 73, of cancer of the oesophagus caused by a lifetime of smoking. Not overly bright, then. His knighthood was backdated to the day before his death. All his obituaries were effusive, not understanding the nature of the man. His Vanity Fair obituary ends with, ‘As caustic as Amis could be on the page, there was never much doubt that under the surface of his biting novels and essays flowed an insistent current of redeeming, even old-fashioned, values: compassion and honesty, decency and respect. In his final book, the bad boy of contemporary letters, so adept at courting controversy and creating loutish antiheroes, got into the nitty-gritty of what his work—and what all writing, really—is about. “This is literature’s dewy little secret,” Amis wrote, drawing the reader close, as he always did. “Its energy is the energy of love.” Grant Sir Martin Louis Amis FRSL a posthumous HFW – Hypocrite of the First Water.

The Lordship of Senghenydd

Green on Grey on Black

Betrayed by Norman Englishmen

A Thousand-Year Attack

On the only nation

Which has never

Declared war

On anyone

We were your first

And will be your last colony

And a prototype of ethnic and ethical cleansing

You almost killed our language

Because it was fifteen-hundred years older than yours.

Your ‘Welsh Not’ is just out of living memory.

You killed our Church at the Synod of Whitby

Taking it away from the people and giving it to Rome

You gave us a higher density of castles

Than anywhere in the world.

You killed the old laws of Hywel Dda

Because they looked after the people and accepted women as equal.

And instead gave all rights

in ascending importance

to people with property and titles.

You tried to kill our countryside damming villages in valleys

Like Capel Celyn with Afon Trywerin

and charge us more than your Middle Saesneg for it.

You tried to kill our culture by using our best in your wars

And you stripped out all our minerals…

In return you gave us nystagmus and insanity - and

Emphysema, silicosis, pneumoconiosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asbestosis, pulmonary embolus, bronchopneumonia, asthma, pulmonary oedema, cancers, bronchiolitis, pulmonary fibrosis, pneumonia, sarcoidosis, bronchitis, pulmonary hypertension, atelectasis, byssinosis, mesothelioma, pleural effusions,

pleural plaques and bronchiectasis – painful before time deaths – many airway diseases are like ‘trying to breathe through a straw’. And of course, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis caused by cramped, poor working conditions and associated injuries. No matter, any compensation cost is soon overtaken by premature death. That was no choice – a fast death or a painful death.

In the 19th century, children under 8 spent hours in the pitch black, opening and closing the trapper doors of ventilation tunnels. If over 8, they dragged baskets of coal to the bottom of the shaft.

In 1840, 6-year-old Susan Reece said ‘I have been below six or eight months and I don’t like it much. I come here at 6 in the morning and leave at 6 at night. When my lamp goes out or I am hungry I go home. I haven’t been hurt yet'. Her mission was to open and close the ventilator at Plymouth Colliery, Merthyr Tydfil.

The boys who, with chains around their waist, pulled trucks of coal through galleries too low for pit-ponies, were called ‘carters’. James Davies, an 8-year-old carter, reported that he earned 10 pennies a week, which his father took from him. John Saville, a 7-year-old carter, said that he was always in the dark and only saw daylight on Sundays.

Listen to our shortened inventory of lost ‘human capital’:

1825 Cwmllynfell 59 men and children killed in an explosion

1842 The English Parliament under Lord Shaftesbury forbids the employment

underground of women, girls and BOYS UNDER 10 years old

as miners

The mine owners opposed the bill and there was little inspection

1844 Dinas Middle, Rhondda,          12 men and boys killed

1849 Lletyshenkin, Aberdare,           52 men and boys killed in an explosion

1849 Merthyr, Dowlais, Rhondda   884 people killed by cholera

1852 Middle Duffryn, Aberdare,       65 men and boys killed in an explosion

1856 Cymmer, Porth,                      114 killed

7 of the 114 were UNDER THE AGE of 10, 7 were 10, and 7 were 11 years old

1867 Ferndale, Rhondda,                178 killed

1869 Ferndale, Rhondda, another    60 killed

1877 Tynewydd                                 5 killed in a flooded pit

1880 Naval Colliery, Rhondda,       96 killed in an explosion

1885 Maerdy                                    81 killed in an explosion

The first ‘firemen’ were covered with water-soaked rags and crawled through the blackness towards seepages - with a naked flame on a long stick to explode the gas… ‘Fireman’ was an apt description of the poor bastards

Some survived the dampness

Methane                   = Firedamp

Carbon Monoxide    = Afterdamp

Carbon Dioxide       = Blackdamp

Hydrogen Sulphide  = Stinkdamp

In 1889, there were no major disasters

- it was a good year

- just 153 deaths in the Welsh pits.

And among them…

John Evans age 14 killed in a roof fall at Ocean Colliery, Treorchy

Thomas Evans age 16 killed in a roof fall at Seven Sisters, Neath

James Minhan age 13 fell from shaft at Great Western Colliery, Pontypridd

Thomas Jones age 17 rushed by trams at Cwmheol Colliery, Aberdare

Thomas Jones age 17  knocked down by tram at Duffryn Main, Neath

Morgan Harris age 16 run over by a coal wagon at No 9 Pit, Aberdare

James Webber age 17             killed by falling stone at No 1 Pit, Ferndale

Richard Jones age 17 killed in roof fall at Abercanaid Colliery, Merthyr

Thomas Cooper age 15 killed by a roof fall at Albion Colliery, Cilfynydd

Joseph Grey age 17 crushed between tram and coal face Gendros Colliery, Swansea

John Howells age 13 crushed by trams at Penrhiwceiber Colliery

Thomas Davies age 17 head crushed between crossbar and tram at Cwmaman Colliery

Thomas Pocket age 16 killed in roof fall at Brithdir Colliery, Neath

Thomas Evans age 17 killed in roof fall at Dunraven Colliery, Treherbert

Richard Martin age 15 killed in roof fall at Coegnant Colliery, Maesteg

David Jones age 17 crushed by tram at North Tunnel Pit, Dowlais

William Meredith age 15 crushed by pit cage at Maritime Colliery, Pontypridd

Aaron Griffiths age 14 crushed by tram at Clydach Vale Colliery

W.R. Evans age 15 died in roof fall at North Dunraven Colliery, Treherbert

Henry Jones age 14 killed in roof fall at Blaenclydach Colliery, Clydach Vale

Samuel Harris age 14 killed in roof fall at Fforchaman Colliery, Cwmaman

Joseph Jones age 16 killed in roof fall at Ynyshir Colliery

John Barwell age 13 fell into side of tram at Clydach Vale Colliery

Thomas Welsh age 15 killed in roof fall at Nantymelyn Colliery, Aberdare

Walter Martin age 15 killed in roof fall at Albion Colliery, Cilfynydd

Robert Thomas age 17 killed in roof fall at Treaman Pit, Aberdare

David Thomas age 17 killed in roof fall at Old Pit, Gwaun Cae Gurwen

Thomas Evans age 13 run over by trams at Glamorgan Steam Colliery, Llwynypia

David Arscott age 14 run over by tram at Abercanaid Colliery, Merthyr

Ben Rosser age 14 killed by fall of rock at Gadlys New Pit, Aberdare

William Osborne age 14 crushed in engine wheels at Albion Colliery, Cilfynydd

Yes, 1989 was ‘a good year’

1892 Parc Slip 114 killed - in a gas blast - the school had a half-day holiday for the funerals

No cremations then, but 2 hours off for your dad or brother’s burial, lucky child

1893 A Health Report on the Rhondda Valleys stated ‘the river contained a large proportion of human excrement, pig sty manure, congealed blood, entrails from slaughterhouses, the rotten carcasses of animals, street refuse and a host of other articles - in dry weather the stink becomes unbearable’

1894 Albion Colliery, Cilfynydd - 290 killed of the 300 on the shift - 11 could not be identified. One miner’s head had been blown 20 yards from his body. ‘All through the darkness the dismal ritual of bringing up the dead continued, illuminated only by the pale fitful glare of the surrounding oil lamps... each arrival of the cage quenched the glimmer of hope that lived in the hearts of those who waited’ - A court case was brought against the mine owners and managers - but all serious charges were dropped.

There is no compensation

For the dust of our land

Now in our lungs

And in every pore of our bodies

Except our white eyes

A solitary




Was unlucky to survive

The 1901 explosion

At Universal Colliery, Senghenydd

When 81 miners died

A forewarned accident

But never responsibility

So back to work, it is, lads

Serene immutability

For the company,

Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries Ltd.,

All charges were of course dismissed

1901 Morgan Morgans died in a fall at Cymmer Colliery, Porth, which pushed him onto a pickaxe, which went through his head. His son, Dai Morgans, aged 13, witnessed the accident and was so traumatised that he never worked again

1905 National Colliery, Wattstown, 109 killed

and the first disaster at Cambrian Colliery, Clydach Vale, 31 killed

14 October 1913, 12 years later

- Let us return to Senghenydd

Same pit, different scale

Cover their faces with their coats

There are plenty more Welsh males

The Universal was known as a ‘fiery’ pit, full of hidden methane-filled caverns.

A miner went to the lamp room to light his wick, a roof-fall nearby released methane into the tunnel, the explosion ignited the coal dust, and the fire caused a massive second explosion that roared up the Lancaster Section of the pit, smashing through the workings

The fires could not be put out for a week, during which all but 18 of the survivors died of carbon monoxide poisoning

The pit cage was blown right out of its shaft

Into the clear blue air

Aged a little over 14 years

Harry Wedlock’s first day

As a colliery boy was spent in tears

With cracking timber falling away

Fire and foul air filled his chest

While Sidney Gregory cwtched him best

As he could in the black smoke and dust

2,000 feet under the management offices

Upon October 14, 1913, at the Universal Colliery

The dead included:

8 children of 14 years

5 children of 15 years

10 children of 16 years

44 children of 17 to 19 years

And 377 other miners

8 bodies were never identified and 12 could not be recovered

Of the 440 dead, 44 men were from Commercial Street, Senghenydd                      and 40 from the High Street and 39 from Caerphilly Road

Not one street in Senghenydd was spared -

Parc Cottages               1 dead

Gelli Terrace                2 dead

School Street                2 dead

Windsor Place              2 dead

Cross Street                  2 dead

Clive Street                  3 dead

Kingsley Place             4 dead

The Huts                      6 dead

Alexandra Terrace       8 dead

Station Road                8 dead

Brynhyfryd Terrace     8 dead

Phillips Terrace            9 dead

Coronation Terrace     10 dead

Station Terrace            11 dead

Woodland Terrace      12 dead

Graig Terrace              14 dead

Parc Terrace                15 dead

Grove Terrace             19 dead

Stanley Street             20 dead

Cenydd Terrace          22 dead

Caerphilly Road          39 dead

High Street                  40 dead

Commercial Street      44 dead

Some women lost their husbands in 1901 - and their sons in 1913

Mrs Benjamin of Abertridwr lost her husband and

both her sons, aged 16 and 14

At 68 Commercial Street, the widowed Mrs Twining lost

each one of her 3 sons, the youngest aged 14

Richard and Evan Edwards, father and son, of 44 Commercial Street, were found dead together

Half the village rugby team died -

They changed their strip from black and white

To black

“For weeks, there was no rugby on Saturday

… only funerals”

In 12 homes, both father and son died

‘When Edwin John Small died

with his 21 year-old son

it left his 18 year-old daughter Mary

to rear 6 children

the youngest 3 years old’

A survivor, William Hyatt, recalled

‘My father always said

That there was more fuss

If a horse was killed underground

Than if a man was killed…

Men come cheap

… they had to buy horses”

We know of a price, not a value

It was 75 years ago today

That the pit boss brought the band to play

But it didn’t help him

They’ve been going in and out of style

But they’re guaranteed to raise a pile

The manager was found guilty on 8 charges

So let me introduce to you

The one and only real scapegoat

Of breaches of the 1911 Coal Mines Act

And fined £24…

Five-pence ha’penny a corpse

In old money to us

2 p to you

There was no compensation

Wrth gwrs

For the company,

Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries Ltd.,

All charges were

Of course


But we appealed, we showed 'em

And Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries Ltd.

Were fined £10

With costs of £5 and 5 shillings

The copper content of the bodies


‘We slunk to the biblical parlours to stare in shock

At the coke of flesh in the coffin, the ashes of a voice;

There we learned above the lids screwed down before their time

Collects of red rebellion, litanies of violence’

In Senghenydd and Abertridwr

The graves are brambled now

Monuments overgrown

The 14-year-old’s place

Into the ground is sewn

Death rolls around this country

A skull with dust in its sockets

1915 Thomas Williams was killed at Lucy Drift Mine, Abercanaid, leaving a widow and seven children, five of whom were still at home. No compensation was paid.

St David’s Day, 1927 Marine Colliery, Cwm, Ebbw Vale - 52 dead

Half a mile underground

1934 Gresford

262 colliers dead

And 3 of the rescue brigade

Despite the shotfirer’s premonition

About the gas in Dennis Deep Section

‘The fireman’s reports are all missing

The records of 42 days,

The colliery manager had them destroyed

To cover his evil ways’

Charges? What charges?

For those remaining,

The dust comes out of the ground

Into our silicosis lungs

To be vomited near to death

Not screaming death

But doubled-up suffering wheezing darkness before our time death

Buckets of death feed the flames

More dust goes on the slag heaps

Fear of tears, insider squealing, new markets, Newmarket and

The Falklands hide the blameless obscenity of pulverised spines

The Great War hid Senghenydd

A slag heap hid the school

Can hate fade like pain?

Who wants to know?

Between 1837 and 1934 there were more than 70 disasters in Welsh mines,

And in 11, more than 100 were killed in a single day

Who worries, Lord Bute?

Fill the boneyards and build mock castles over them

1931 Cilely Colliery, Tonyrefail, John Jones killed. Wife and four children receive £6 compensation

1937 - from the notebook of Idris Davies, miner and poet - ‘I looked at my hand and saw a piece of white bone shining like snow, and the flesh of the little finger all limp. The men supported me, and one ran for an ambulance box down the heading, and there I was fainting away like a little baby girl.’

Davies understood the sullen slavery of his fellow colliers -

‘There are countless tons of rock above his head,

And gases wait in secret corners for a spark;

And his lamp shows dimly in the dust.

His leather belt is warm and moist with sweat,

And he crouches against the hanging coal,

And the pick swings to and fro,

And many beads of salty sweat play about his lips

And trickle down the blackened skin

To the hairy tangle on the chest.

The rats squeak and scamper among the unused props

And the fungus waxes strong.

And Dai pauses and wipes his sticky brow,

And suddenly wonders if his baby

Shall grow up to crawl in the local Hell,

And if tomorrow’s ticket will buy enough food for six days,

And for the Sabbath created for pulpits and bowler hats,

When the under-manager cleans a dirty tongue

And walks with the curate’s maiden aunt to church…

Again the pick resumes the swing of toil,

And Dai forgets the world where merchants walk in morning streets,

And where the great sun smiles on pithead and pub and church-steeple.’

1941 Coedely Colliery - Hugh Jones was killed and his mother received £15 compensation, of which the coffin cost £14 14s. She went to the pit with the £15 and waved it at miners, shouting ‘Look, boys, get out of this pit as quick as you can - because this is all your lives are worth!’

1941 Markham Colliery - Leslie James killed, family also receives £15 for the funeral

1947 Lewis Merthyr Colliery - George Waite killed - wife and five children receive £500 compensation

1947 Lewis Merthyr Colliery - 18 year old Neil Evans suffocated in roof fall. His family receives £200 compensation, but the National Coal Board takes away their entitlement to free coal in return

Between 1931 and 1948, of the 23,000 men who left mining because of pneumoconiosis, almost 20,000 came out of the South Wales pits.

1950 Maritime Colliery, Pontypridd - John Phillips dies - no compensation for family

1951 Wern Tarw Colliery - two brothers, Aaron and Arthur Stephens were killed in a roof fall - Aaron’s widow received £200 compensation, and Arthur’s widow £250. The differential was explained by the fact that Arthur had two children.

1957 Bedwas Colliery - Bobby John killed - parents receive £300 compensation

1960 Six Bells Colliery, Abertillery, 45 dead

In 1961 No 7 Pantglas Tip was started, on top of a mountain stream, next to 6 other slag heaps on boggy ground on the side of a hill. Directly underneath it was Pantglas School. There were local protests.

1962 Tower Colliery, 9 dead - Dai Morris was decapitated. The miner with him reminisced ‘when the nurse pulled my shirt off, she pulled away half my skin with it’

Ken Strong died at Tower - his wife Mary was only 32 and then never left her home for 15 years until she died in 1977

No 7 Pantglas Tip was getting bigger - the National Coal Board - a nameless, faceless, ignorant bureaucracy, used it to deposit “tailings”, tiny particles of coal and ash.

1963 a Merthyr Council official wrote to the National Coal Board ‘You are no doubt aware that tips at Merthyr Vale tower above the Pantglas area and if they were to move a very serious situation would accrue’

When wet, tailings form a consistency identical to quicksand

1965 Another disaster at Cambrian Colliery, Tonypandy, with 31 dead in the explosion

But we digress, it was only a ‘small’ disaster - hardly touched the ‘Nationals’

Let us instead return to Merthyr Vale and Pantglas

After three inches of rain in the week, men working on No 7 Pantglas Tip arrived at work at 7.30 am…

A 30 foot crater had developed in the centre of the tip. Just after 9 the tip moved.

Within seconds it rolled down the hillside, over 20 sheep, covered some walkers on the canal bank, smashed through 8 terraced houses in Moy Road, and buried the school.

9.15 am

21st October


Just three hours before

The half term holiday was to begin


Pantglas Junior School


1 in 2 families bereaved

There were warnings, of course

As always

The Lord helps them now as helps themselves

[Thanks to Lady Thatcher]

They are the rich men, the hollow men, stuffed with air

Whispering no meanings, to show they really care…

Soft-talking, seductive, motionless promises,

They have the answers, the questions and the messages

Made-up, but not so false, for we know what they are:

Powdered faces, 5 houses and a Minister’s car.


A round gross of crushed Taffs -

A lovely cemetery with a white arch

For each of the 116 children

And 28 adults

Was built

The deputy headmaster tried to use the blackboard to shelter the children in his class - all 34 were killed

On a tombstone

‘Richard Goldsworthy, Aged 11,

Who loved Light, Freedom and Animals’

On another

The parting was so sudden

One day we will know why

But the saddest part of all

We never said goodbye”

‘I’r Rhai a Garwn ac y

Galarwn o’u colli”...

Today’s your birthday

Happy birthday to you

To ease the pain

But not the hate

Or ‘The Dust’

‘See those rows of white arches?

Each one’s a child.

You can’t imagine what it was like.

It was as if someone took the roof off your house,

Filled it up to the top with dust and dirt,

And then put it back on.

They found 6 of the children still standing up around their teacher,

It happened so fast”

What a joke

Sup your brandy, Kingsley

Suck your rusk, Martin - how are the new teeth?

Intelligentsia, it’s funny

It makes your brain go runny

‘My supervisor called me out of the mine

And we went to help.

A farmhouse near the school

Had been pushed right through it.

I didn’t cry until I saw them

Bring a little baby from the farmhouse,

Suffocated by the dust’

Apart from the baby, the village lost a three-year-old, 7 seven year olds, 25 eight year olds, 35 nine year olds, 35 ten year olds, 5 eleven year olds, 1 twelve year old, 3 thirteen year olds and 3 fourteen year olds - 116 potential novelists

Let the children sing

‘I can still remember the noise,

a tremendous noise, like a thunder

but magnified a thousand times;

it sounded frightening

Some instinct made me jump from my seat and try to run for the door.

After that,


till I came round and found

myself buried up to my waist

in black slurry.

The walls and roof of the classroom

had caved in

and beside me,

under the rubble,

was a little boy I knew,



Another child’s hand was hanging above me,

poking through from the next class where the wall had given way.

I took hold of the hand

and squeezed it.

I still don’t know whose hand it was -

a child who was already

very probably dead.

On that day

116 children were killed,

my younger brother Carl, 7,

my sister Marilyn, 10,

among them.

I was eight years old

and spent the months

following the tragedy

in hospital with hip

and leg injuries.

The world mourned for Aberfan,

but the focus was on the children

who had been lost

rather than those who had survived.

Everyone was so busy looking for someone to blame,

we were chucked aside,


It was about 30 years ago,

and nobody thought about

our traumas and nightmares


The attitude was that you should be grateful

that you were alive. For years I never spoke

about what had happened.

At that age I was too embarrassed to talk about how I felt.

I thought I would be laughed at.

All of us were brought up then to bottle up emotions,

to bury what had happened and

get on as best we could.

But I needed to get it out of my system.

At 12, I wrote it all down in a blue school exercise book, every detail of what I had seen and how I felt at the time and afterwards.

Nobody saw it but my family and one teacher.

After he had read it he did not even speak to me, he seemed so shocked.

My parents were horrified.

It was another 20 years before I took it out and showed it to a woman who was writing a book about Aberfan. In the meantime, I had tried to forget and I was shocked at how forcibly it all came back to me. I realised I still had a great deal of suffering inside me, that I needed to talk and to think about how Aberfan had affected all of us who were involved. A lot of people had breakdowns, probably because they were never adequately able to share their grief.’

No individual was to blame

For a tip


A school

The Chairman of the NCB

Lord Robens

Lied that they did not know

That the tip was placed on a stream

What a scream

If you had but the chance

Who bloody cares as long as Income Tax is under 25 pence?

That seems to be the going rate for discussion -

Of course we’ll be forced to leave the country if taxes rise.

[Thankyou, Messrs Caine, Lloyd-Webber and Collins - be sure you take your

muzak and money with you as you close the door]

‘And in the end

The love you take

Is equal to the

Love you make’

It has started

The white arches

are becoming overgrown tombstones

in abandoned graveyards in our memories

‘Without a knowledge of history

One is condemned

To repeat the mistakes

Of the past’

Who realises that ALL wealth

stems from some poor bastard

digging something out of the ground?

It never ends

every night

in tears

the nightmare never dies

Mothers still die of broken hearts

Front rooms are their children’s shrines

Miners used bare, bleeding hands to remove tons of slurry off the buried children

- in the black slime

… they were afraid of driving a spade into a child’s body

‘When the tip collapsed on October 21, 1996, Idris Cole had been at work since 7.30am. He recalls that he and his colleagues were struck by an uncanny silence in the air just before the calamity. Here, (thirty years later) he reveals for the first time what happened next.

Suddenly, someone shouted to my workmates that the tip had collapsed and was on the move. The main water pipe carrying water to Cardiff had been crushed with the weight of the tip and torrential rain, until it was like a wafer, causing the tip to slide down the mountain. We rushed to the school, wading through slurry which had gone through the houses over a large area and on down to the river. The whole tip had moved silently, like a volcano spewing lava, but this was horrible black slurry. The scene as we approached the school was horrendous and frightening beyond description - screams and shouts of mothers and fathers, some of them who had just taken their children to school and had stopped for a chat. It was all so terrifyingly unbelievable. In their panic, people were unable to think what to do.

Their screams have never gone away. My workmates and myself waded on through the slurry and the rubble of the crushed building. I dived down to where I could see some of the children, the ones who had not been completely buried. Some, like rag dolls, were crushed against a radiator. And a teacher with outstretched arms, as if to protect the little ones. I was one of the first people to get right in the middle of it, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I recall one distraught father frantically searching for his two children. He was hysterical and kept pushing me away from what I was trying to do. He was out of his mind with anguish and had to be led away and physically restrained.

I think I went mad myself, from what I was seeing. But I just had to get on with using my skills and trying to keep the slurry back. Some part of the roof was still there, but hanging dangerously. The skills of the building trade enabled my mates and myself to jack it up to prevent further falls. We worked late in the night by the light of lamps which were brought in. I have never done so much crying as that day; we all did. The slurry was so deep, at one point I almost got sucked down into it. They had to pull me out and strip off my denims and my shirt, but I just wanted to carry on. Eventually, I collapsed from exhaustion and was carried off. I had double pneumonia and was given an injection which put me to sleep for many, many hours. I didn’t know where I was by then; all I remember is seeing the doctor bending over me to give me the injection.

I don’t think I have ever felt completely normal since that day. I had experienced many horrors during the war, from the beaches of Dunkirk, to a naval battle on the battleships taking us to Malta where I served for three years. Malta was under siege, continuously being bombed, and on very meagre rations. From there, I went to Minterno and Cassino, where we had to bury many of our comrades who were slaughtered. But nothing can ever erase the memory of that fateful morning at Aberfan and the loss of 116 little children. It was much worse, because it was the children who died. Their laughter would never ring out again in that sad, sad, village. I can never forget it. Let no-one ever forget that terrifying, sad day - or the lesson to be learned.’

It is almost forgotten

Deliberately so

By those on high

Most villagers will still not talk about it

Grief is private

And unrewarded

In the proud humility

Of non-acceptance

An Appeal Fund raised £1.75 million from the British public.

The National Coal Board asked for £250,000 from it

And accepted £150,000

To meet the costs of clearing the remaining slurry

From the hilltops around the town

The families of the bereaved were offered £500 each

Regardless of how many children

The National Coal Board had killed.

Eventually, the generous NCB

Gave £1,500 per family

From the Appeal Money

It had taken

Tiny front rooms in the packed terraces

Are shrines to the dead generation

And the generation of broken-hearted deaths

The mine closed in 1989

'What becomes of the broken-hearted

Who had love that's now departed…’

The 4,236 page enquiry

Banished all tips

From the edges of mining villages

There is no money left

From the Appeal Fund

To restore the Portland Stone Monument

Or maintain the Memorial Gardens

The White Arches

Of the dead children

The Fund built an expensive community centre

With no monies for its upkeep

So the local council took it over

£1,500 per family

The Royalties of Murder

As bitter as he’s ugly

Just like his scabby daddy

This pox-scarred whelp

Needs some real help

Because he’s his mummy’s babby

‘No Iranian torturer could have elicited a greater variety of winces and flinches’

states Amis fils, being forced to endure the whole of the screening of

Four Weddings and A Funeral with one of his fellow illuminated glitterati,

Salman Rushdie.

They cannot leave early because of security reasons.

The great Rushdie explains that

‘The world has bad taste. Didn’t you know that?’

Blest are those with choice and no contempt

Listen to John Evans, a miner aged just 47 and looking into darkness:

‘I’m glad I haven’t a son ...

It must be a heart-breaking business to watch your boy

Grow into manhood and then see him deteriorating

Because there is no work for him to do….

I’ve been out of work now for eight years,

And I’ve only managed to get eleven days work

In all that time.

Work used to shape the whole of my life

And now I’ve got to face the fact

That this won’t be so any more.

I am really glad I live in the Rhondda.

There’s real kindness and comradeship here,

And that just about makes life worth living.

The spirit here in this valley helps to soften

Many of the hardships of unemployment.’

Crush our language

Crush our men

Crush our youth

Crush our children

Turn the babies back to dust

Parfait gentil knights

Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram

1982 The Malvinas

43 Welsh Guards

Sitting ducks

In another futile English war

No-one was to blame

Although the captain was implored

To disembark

‘After all, it never would have happened if Mark Thatcher had been in the army instead of secreting millions of pounds in his Swiss bank accounts and why should multimillionaires fight for their country anyway they are far too valuable of course and just why should we pay taxes in Britain and what do you think of the claret, perhaps a teensy robust?’ warbles the acclaimed novelist, wit and raconteur

Unlike Simon Weston

The name with no face

Or skin

Sing along now in your English cathedrals:

Glory Glory Maggie Thatcher

Glory Glory Maggie Thatcher

Glory Glory Maggie Thatcher

Hide all the cripples away

Only complete heroes sit in the front, please,

You’ll upset the voters

‘Everywhere there’s lots of piggies

Living piggy lives

You can see them out for dinner

With their piggy wives’

The pits have gone

Except for one

The dust is going

The wealth has gone

The slag heaps are going

The breed is still here

Uproot us if you can

Our brightest and best

Are forced to leave

But they sometimes come back

You are in our country

You changed it

We made the money

You spent it

We held together

You used us

Take what’s left

And leave us

Never understand

... Real ghosts.

Deracinate intrenchant cultures, now!

And place fresh holly on sweet Jesus’ brow,

Slit sad sores, suck old pus,

And abetting of such sights,

Lose starving blue bridges of the sky,

Regretting rien for our plight, forgetting in the laxer light,

Shame washed with blood, disputes with death,

The hurdling towards night.

Norman bastards…


This poem was originally written in 1991 while working in London, in response to Martin Amis' opinion of Aberfan - that event was too painful to write about before I felt the real anger inspired by Amis. It was updated in 1996 and 2000 and finally published in 2002. Quotes are from eyewitnesses, Lennon-McCartney, D. Gwenallt Jones, ‘The Dead’, Santayana, Gwalia Deserta Verse VII by Idris Davies, and The Western Mail article upon Idris Cole upon the thirtieth anniversary of Aberfan. Martin Amis’ comments upon watching a popular film being worse than castration, rape and murder were in his New Yorker column in January 1996, and also reported in Private Eye, 9 February 1996. The remembrances of a survivor were reported in The Sunday Times, 15 September 1996, and Gaynor Madgwick’s book of dealing with the horrors of memory is Struggling Out of The Darkness, published locally by Valley and Vale in September 1996. John Evans is quoted in Time To Spare 1935, by F. Green.

From T.D. Breverton ‘A Historical Companion to Wales’ 2009:


After the famous historian A.J.P. Taylor wrote his ‘History of England’ he was asked in 1957 ‘What should be done about Ireland, Scotland and Wales in a history of England?’ He answered, ‘Somehow I sorted it out: the lesser breeds were allowed in when they made a difference in English affairs.’

A.A. Gill, the Anglo-Scot Sunday Times columnist, referred to the Welsh thus ‘We all know that they are loquacious dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly, pugnacious little trolls’ in his column in the 1980’s. He was asked why he hated the Welsh and in The Independent stated ‘The point is about the Welsh is that they’re like mice; individually they’re quite sweet, but all together they’re a plague.’ Even the Welsh sense of nationhood is mocked.

The critic Simon Heffer has said that ‘there is no such thing as a Welsh nation… When I hear the term Welsh nationalism I laugh. I mean, it’s like Essex Nationalism. This is not a nation.’

Anne Robinson, a quiz show host, nominated Welsh people for inclusion in Room 101, in the TV programme of the same name - the fictional space in George Orwell's novel 1984 that contains everyone's greatest fear. She described Welsh people as ‘irritating and annoying’. ‘What are they for?’ Robinson asked the show's presenter Paul Merton, ‘They are always so pleased with themselves.’

A.N. Wilson, himself a critic of the Welsh, wrote in 2000 ‘The Welsh are almost the only race left on the planet who are regularly insulted with impunity. Journalists lace their copy with anti-Welsh jibes and jokes, which, if applied to the Irish, would merit a bomb in the editor’s office and, if written about the Jews, would close the newspaper down.’

Mike Dickin of Talk Radio ended one show with the following words: ‘The Welsh are a flawed people. If a Welshman mated with a pretty sheep there is a 1% chance of the result having some brains. If a Welshman mated with an ugly sheep there is no chance at all.’


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