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1966: Aberfan - a generation wiped out

It took just five minutes for the coal tip above Aberfan to slide down the mountain and engulf a farm, several houses and a school.

Pupils at Pantglas Junior School were just beginning their first lessons of the day when the rushing landslide of mud and debris flooded into their classrooms.

Some children were able to escape, but 116 were killed. Another 28 adults also died. The local community was devastated by the tragedy and the whole country was shocked and saddened when the news hit the headlines.

Your memories of Aberfan:

I went to Pantglas on that day. I was 13. I will remember always and never forget my friends whom I lost, and how I survived. I still cry.
Linda, Australia

I was a part-time fireman in Newport. I was called out to go to Aberfan.

We were sent to the top of the tip that collapsed to pump out water.

I will never forget it the smell - stayed with me for days.
Glen, Bush, Wales

A day I shall never forget.

I was on duty as a telephonist at the Cardiff Telephone Exchange and was taking emergency calls etc.

All the telephonists were in tears and the pathos of the calls was unimaginable.
Noreen Powell, Wales

Remembering the people of Aberfan, my mum's home village. She was born there in 1909. My auntie used to clean Pantglas Junior school and I used to go there with her when I was a child.

I still have a cousin in Aberfan.
Vin, UK

We had been to Brecon for the day and were driving back home to Merthyr.

No radio in the car so we were surprised to see police stopping cars at the top of Cefn Coed to check on our address.

They told us about the awful accident and said they were only letting residents into Merthyr.

My cousin was a teacher at Pantglas Junior school.

We went home and waiting anxiously to hear if she had survived.

It was a day or two before we found out that her students' bus was late so she was in the staff room and not her usual classroom.

The classroom was completely demolished and she survived but had spent the time helping with the rescue.

My aunt was district nurse and was on the frontline of recovery but said she had never experienced such heartbreaking sights in her entire career.

We cried a lot and today we've shed another tear. An entire generation wiped out in minutes. So sad.
Gareth Williams, USA

I was a 14-year-old living in Tonyrefail some 10 miles from Aberfan.

I was in school that day and remember the day well, for I went home lunchtime and a neighbour called me to tell me what had happened.

I went back to school and looked down the valley at our local colliery tip, thinking, "How could something like that move"? I will never forget that day.
Howard Bartlett, Wales

I was a week short of my eighth birthday in Standard One of Tonysguboriau Primary School about 10 or 15 miles down from the valleys.

I remember my teacher, Miss Jones, standing in front of the class and saying that children just like us had been killed when the tip slid on to their school.

I can remember the silence reverberating through our classroom and I kept thinking, "It could have been us. How can we be sure it wasn't us?"

I tried to explain to my eight-year-old what had happened, about how all the valleys were black and that is just how we expected life to be.

He was completely uncomprehending - "How could there be black mountains which collapse on to schools?"
Helen, UK

That day is one of the earliest memoris I have as a child. I remember being taken from class to a special assembly in the school hall, saying the lords prayer but not really knowing why.

Being Welsh has nothing to do with the sorrow I felt and still feel, the sorrow is for those who lost their lives on that day. God bless them all.
Chris Morse, Wales

I was an 18-year-old apprentice attending Army Apprentice College Chepstow at the time of this catastrophic event.

I remember well the request for volunteers by Sgt. Davies Royal Engineers, our group regular Army Sargent in 1966.

Everyone in the group volunteered and we set off shortly afterwards in buses prepared to go to Aberfan to do what we could to help.


" I remember the silence which prevaded the town, interrupted by the noise of truck traffic to and from the site of the tragedy "

David, Canada

The group was organized into shifts. Our directive was to fill sand bags with a slurry of wet coal, the only fill available, and to place the sand bags to try and slow the advance of the coal tip.

The work we were assigned was to help with rescue and recovery.

I remember being marched to and from our place of work after each shift, seeing the grim faces of the citizens of Aberfan.

I remember the silence which prevaded the town, interrupted by the noise of truck traffic to and from the site of the tragedy.

I also remember the kindness shown by the many many volunteers with the Red Cross and the Salvation Army who were also at the scene.
David McMaster, Canada

I remember that day well. I was in my fourth year at Cyfarthfa Castle Grammar School, a school about six miles from Aberfan.

At lunchtime one of the lads who went home for lunch, came back laughing saying "Guess what, a school down the valley had been covered in mud."

Little did he or any of us know know the consequence of what had happened.


" Grown men, hard men distraught and tales of limbs being found "

Alan, UK

But during the next few days it started to sink in to the mind of a 14-year-old.

When I found out it was Pantglas school - they were always the champion football school in the Merthyr Valley.

Then over the next few days, miners were coming home to my village, Dowlais, in tears - I'd never seen such a sight.

Grown men, hard men distraught and tales of limbs being found.

One of the lads at school, his father was the headmaster and he died.

How Philip coped I don't know, I had no comprehension then. Now it saddens me to think what he must have gone through.

Later I'm not sure how long, we drove down the A470 - the old road on the opposite side of the valley - and looking across there was a gaping black hole where there was once a loving school and houses.

As I grew older the feelings I had were of the scandal of not doing anything about a tip that was thought to be unstable and how wicked the Labour government was to take money out of the disaster fund, meant for the families of Aberfan.
Alan, UK

I was only six at the time attending school in Heswall, Cheshire, and I vividly remember our headmaster asking us to send toys for the children left after the terrible disaster.

I still recall handing over a carefully wrapped Matchbox Rolls Royce to that was put into a large pile of toys to be sent.
David Hill, Canada

I was five when Aberfan happened. I remember that some weeks before the BBC had been into our school and filmed us for a local programme.

It wasn't shown until many weeks later as Aberfan happened on the day it was scheduled.

More significantly however, I remember this as the day my Mom stopped believing in God. She could not understand how he had allowed so many people and children to die so horribly.

Whenever we get a grey foggy day, I think of that time.
Ruth, UK

I was 14 at the time of the Aberfan disaster.

My school was very religious, and I had been trying to decide how much I believed in God. When the disaster struck it was the talk of the school, and in many of the classes we found ourselves discussing it with our teachers.

We particularly wanted to know why God would allow so many children to die.

The teachers had no answer. I turned away from the idea that there is a God. And that's my view, to this day.
John Adams, UK

I was 11 when this dreadful thing happened.

We were living in England, but had moved from Tintern in South Wales a few years before, which is where my father and I were born.

Although he had never been a miner, my Dad immediately wanted to go and help to try and dig with the other men to try and save some of the children.

The authorities asked people not to come in the end as there were more people than could effectly help.

Having been brought up in a small Welsh village and gone to the village school, he, and the rest of our family, felt such sympathy with the parents.

We knew what it would feel like to lose close friends from a small village school, and so many family members. I don't think this tragedy will fade from the memory of Welsh people for many generations.
Sherie, UK

My heart goes out to the people of my mum's home village.

My auntie was one of the school cleaners and had just gone home that morning not long before the tragedy.
Vin Wigmore, UK

I was devastated. All I wanted to do - at 13 - was go and help dig.

I can still see the reporter (Dimbleby?) crying on TV - this is one occasion where I wish we hadn't got a TV.

It will stay with me forever - I was over 40 before I went to Aberfan to say hi to that lost generation.
Andy Stafford, England

In October 1966, I was an 11-year-old schoolboy and had left Pantglas School three months previously to attend Quakers Yard Grammar School.

During that Friday morning news reached us of the tragedy which was unfolding two miles up the valley.


" I went to bed wondering if I would wake up again "

Tony, Wales

It was the last day before half term and all lessons were cancelled after we had assembled in the school hall to be told of the disaster.

We were asked to stay at school until the end of the day and we just sat outside on the mountain on a sunny autumn day wondering what would face us when we went back to Aberfan.

All we could hear were sirens.

That evening, a cold dark night, I remember walking down to the village and seeing the utter devastation on people's faces as more and more dead were brought to the chapel.

My cousin, a trainee nurse, was faced with the task of cleaning the bodies for identification - she knew almost every one of them...

I went to bed wondering if I would wake up again.

I remember it clearly - the day that changed the rest of my life.

Although my family lost no-one, my brother and I lost so many of our friends - the people with whom we had shared our childhood.
Tony, Wales

My home town is Ebbw Vale in South Wales.

We heard the terrible news at school. There was an immediate feeling of shock and huge sadness that affected every single person.

This feeling transmitted itself across the whole valley like nothing I'd ever experienced before. People cried openly - it had a devastating effect on all the surrounding communities.


" It had a devastating effect on all the surrounding communities "

Ann Hart, UK

Reading about the tradegy again today, hundreds of miles away in work, instantly took me right back to that day and I'm sat here desperately trying not to cry.

What was also shocking to me was that when I went home that day my father was already home and he couldn't stop crying - my dad who very rarely showed his feelings.

It's hard to put feelings into words, but just trying has made me feel slightly better.
Ann Hart, UK

I was 15 at the time of the Aberfan disaster.

During an English lesson at Pontypridd Grammar, we could hear the ambulance bells as they travelled along the main road towards Merthyr Tydfil.

I'm not sure whether local mines were also sounding their horns (which usually marked the start of a work shift).

News came through of the disaster, and a friend from my village went home early that day.

His aunt was one of the teachers who was found beneath a desk, protecting one of her children in class.

One of the few books I have ever read was written by a local man who was out walking along the Glamorgan canal when it happened. I have been thinking of Aberfan over the weekend, and am pleased to add my thoughts to this site.
Ray Davies, UK

I was six years old at the time, and it was my first memory of BBC News.

There was a stunned silence in the house, and in other houses as news spread.

Just the name "Aberfan" still sends shivers down the spine, even years later.

From that moment I was hooked on news, rather than kids cartoons.
Steve, Spain

I recall as an eight-year-old in primary school being lead in school prayer by our headmaster, Mr Norman Gable, for the lost souls of Aberfan.

In my young life, this was my first brush with tragedy and mortality. Since many of those who died were the same age as I was, I was deeply emotionally touched.

I still think of this event today, and for the compassion of Mr. Gamble who brought it home to us. A lesson in life, and death.
Ian McClenaghan, Northern Ireland

I remember only too well that day. I was living in Swansea at the time. The horror that everybody felt that day was very apparent.

Even now, when I hear anything about the Aberfan children, I get a cold shiver down my spine and a great feeling of sadness.
Sandra, Scotland

I was only just six years old and yet I so clearly remember my mother weeping quietly at the images on our TV, whilst my Father, an ex-army Major who had seen every horror imaginable during WWII, sitting across from her and holding her hand, giving his words of comfort as even he wiped a tear from his eye.

It was then that I began to understand that your Mum and Dad can't protect you from everything bad.

Now, at 44, I still see that tableau whenever there is news of such a terrible nature. And I know that as a man there's no shame in shedding a tear.
Stuart Dymond, UK

21 October 1966 was my 12th birthday. We lived in Llandough less than 30 miles away. Dad worked for Geest in Barry as a lorry driver. He took the Geest tip truck to Aberfan to help clear the site.

I'm sure I was awake all weekend waiting for news of the kids like me and when dad could get home. He was there for days. I am 49 today and my tears still appear on each of my birthdays. I will always remember and say a prayer.
Alan Brinkworth, USA

I was only six and generally was guarded from the worst of the news in the world. But the grey, gritty images on the TV news could not be hidden from anyone - and my parents didn't try.

The desperate looks on the miners' faces as they dug into the floodlit night remain in my memory and still wets the eyes.
Graeme Smith, US ex UK

I was just six-years-old at the time and remember watching the terrible images on the evening news as people tried desperately to rescue survivors. It is something that I will never forget.

I also remember how some children survived because a quick-thinking teacher told them to protect themselves behind desks as soon as she realised what was happening.
Mark Kidger, Tenerife/UK

Though I had already been working in London for two years, I was home in Brighton where I always listened to the 1 O'clock News with my mother as we ate our lunch.

As the news filtered in, we held hands across the table and I watched the tears trickle down her dear face. I remembered that lunchtime again last year when an insufficiently built school collapsed during an earthquake in Italy, killing tiny children once more. Human carelessness taking innocent human life.

Less than two years after Aberfan, mother was gone too, aged only 57, but I never hear reminders of the Aberfan and Garth tragedies without remembering her compassionate tears for the suffering of mothers far away.
Angela Sheard, Italy

I was just nine-years-old when this terrible accident occurred. I remember hearing the news and my mum holding me really tight and crying, "Those poor children". As a parent myself now, I can understand that feeling.
Terri West, UK

I was nine at the time and visiting my family in the Docks Cardiff. When the news came of all the children who died up in the valleys. I think every mother in the Docks came out into Bute street to cry. So many dreams left unfinished.
Hadyn, USA

I was 11 when I came home from school to find my mother in tears (very unusual). She said a hundred schoolchildren wouldn't be going home to their mothers that day.

I remember sitting with her to watch the news, I was so shocked to imagine so many children and teachers dying when they were just at school on a normal day.

The tragedy has never left me, and now I write entries for bbc/dna/h2g2 so I wrote one on the Aberfan disaster. I'm very proud of it and I hope it's a fitting memorial.
Ann Croft, England

I was born and bred in Aberfan and was 20 at the time of the disaster. My brother Melvyn was nine years old and survived.

It changed our lives forever and not for the better. I ache for the innocence of life before that terrible day.
Peter Walker, Wales


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