Fifty years ago today, half a million tonnes of waste from the Merthyr Vale Colliery slid down on to Pantglas Primary School, in Aberfan. The slag heap engulfed the school as the children were beginning their lessons, killing 144 in all, of whom 116 were pupils. It was one of the worst peacetime disasters in British history and has stayed in the hearts and minds of our people ever since. Everyone knows to what ‘Aberfan’ refers. The inexpressible horror of the loss of the village children and their teachers has been remembered today with a two-minute silence and many religious services. The old south Wales, with its pits and mining communities, has changed so much since that terrible morning in 1966. So many memories, of so many lives and livelihoods lost, will be evoked day, all over the country. People of Aberfan, we remember your loss as though it were yesterday.
O the poor grey stone of loss and tears
Which abounds in coal and death in Merthyr Vale,
O the dry tears which fall from childless eyes
And drop into the mud of Aberfan.
In your pristine responses all the cares
Of man unlimited are shown:
Where Welshmen walk sorrow trails behind;
Where human suffering dwells there is the slate.
For in that dawn of loss and woe
Brave psalms shall spring anew from souls in fear –
Protect, O God,
Those who remain, and from the anguish of some learning,
Extract harsh lessons for the minds of men.
In Bethania graveyard when the screech owl flies
See where they lie – an epitaph reads:
‘Here is the soggy grave of one unknown
Who died as he was learning of the wise
Beneath the mountain that the wise had built.’
At the crash and rent of nine o’clock.
In solemn death old Wales has learnt its path
But your black glacier tears the eye in two.