Aberfan

by Sue Aldred, Australia

I once walked those bare hills,
viewed the valleys with their scars.
Imagined the earth cry out
leave me! Leave me be…

Her newer scars were brutal,
Earth’s bounty hacked and hewed
from yielding ancient seams
by extraordinary men.

For generations, entire families 
toiled and died here, all for the black gold
that fuelled a revolution, yet made them slaves. 
Never content, it took an entire school

Swallowed it whole.

One generation of the village gone
in a moment, smothered,
by the sliding spoil and tailings
the coal barons left behind.

The old Welsh knew 
of the springs underground, 
where the tip grew ever taller - 
tall as a mountain.

Where the spoil and tailings
formed quicksand that, in the rain,
became an avalanche.
Not white like snow, but black…

…black as night, pouring down on Pantglas
Twenty miles an hour, twenty feet high
sounding like thunder
silence in its wake.

Silent children, hushed birds.
Mute, poor Nansi stood in its way
protecting her 100 children,
their dinner money clutched in hand.

My friend’s father worked for, and
among, those lost dead children.
Two were found holding hands…
…all later marked by white arches at Bryntaf

And later, at St Tydfil, at Bethania
Those poor small bodies
‘Crushed skulls’, ‘asphyxia’, read the reports
imprinted in communal memory.

My mother cried for the lost children.
I understood nothing, until I was grown
50 years later, then understood the true
outcome of humanity’s greed.

The enquiry - ‘a graceless pavane’ -
mere dance around truth. The truth was
 ‘wickedness, ineptitude, ignorance’.
But no prosecution to soften trauma

of survivors, parents, workers.
Traumatised before the term existed,
before spin’s deceit was woven to protect
those who were responsible.

Children that lived on, told us:
‘I can’t go out to play’
and more - 
‘I cannot sleep alone.’


Aberfan – Welsh coal mining village near Merthyr Tydfil in the Taff Valley, South Wales. In 1966 a mining tip collapsed and engulfed parts of Aberfan, including the Junior School. 144 people died in the disaster. 116 were children, aged 7 to 10; 109 of the children died inside Pantglas Junior School along with 5 of their teachers.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberfan_disaster

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