At a period when there seems to be an anniversary at every turn, on the 21st October there will be the 50th remembrance of a truly shocking event – Aberfan. Seared in the memories of individuals and communities, especially across South Wales, Aberfan stands as testimony to collusion, cover-up and ‘corporate’ mis-management.
On the 21st October 1966, thousands of tonnes of coal tip waste slid down a mountainside and devastated the mining village of Aberfan. The black mass crashed through the local school; 144 people died, 116 of them young children. Only 25 children from the school survived.
I lived in a different part of South Wales, but this anniversary resonates personally like few others. I suppose this is due to the sheer scale of the event at the time, the television pictures which seem vivid in my memory, that in later years I would often have to drive past the village and of course that at the time in 1966, I was the same age as many of the children that died.
This of course is nothing compared to those who lived through it and the families of those who did not. Gaynor Madgwick was severely injured in Aberfan school. Her brother and sister died there. She has now written about the events of the day (and weeks, months and years that followed) and the last 50 years, both from her own understanding and the pursuit of truth and sacrifice of her family and others, and from interviews with those closely involved – families, doctors, visiting dignitaries and so on. In so doing some of her own remembrances are challenged and re-assessed.
For me, this is a remarkable and powerful book about a man-made disaster and its aftermath, but told in a personal way. The story it tells is as vital today as ever, when we often see the pursuit of business activities placed above the needs, desires and welfare of individuals and whole communities.
The book starts with a searing introduction by veteran broadcaster Vincent Kane. It is a sharp counterpoint to what follows, pulling no punches in holding people to account, not least himself and his own profession for their silence and then aggressive negative coverage of the aftermath and the community.
Gaynor Madgwick (2016) Aberfan. Y Lolfa Cyf, Talybont. ISBN 978-1-78461-275-7. Available for purchase from bookshops and direct from Y Lolfa.