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Queen hails 'indomitable spirit' of people of Aberfan 50 years after disaster

Published 21/10/2016

The graves of the victims of the Aberfan disaster
The graves of the victims of the Aberfan disaster

The Queen has paid tribute to the "indomitable spirit" of the people of Aberfan 50 years after the disaster which killed 116 children and 28 adults.

An entire generation was almost wiped out when 150,000 tonnes of coal waste slid down the hillside before engulfing Pantglas Junior School on October 21 1966.

Residents of the Welsh village attended a day of commemorative events, including a memorial service at Aberfan Cemetary at 9.15am - the time of the tragedy.

The Prince of Wales visited Aberfan and privately laid a wreath bearing the words "Er bythol gof a chyda'r cydymdeiumlad dwysaf", meaning "In continuing memory and deepest sympathy".

He planted a sweetgum tree in the Aberfan Memorial Garden and spoke to survivors at a reception before giving a speech, including a message from the Queen.

The message read: " As you come together as a community today to mark 50 years since the dreadful events of Friday 21st October 1966, I want you to know that you are in my own and my family's thoughts, as well as the thoughts of the nation.

"We will all be thinking about the 144 people who died - most of them children between the ages of seven and ten - and the hundreds more who have lived with the shock and grief of that day, summed up by one poet who said simply, 'All the elements of tragedy are here'.

"I well remember my own visit with Prince Philip after the disaster, and the posy I was given by a young girl, which bore the heart-breaking inscription, "From the remaining children of Aberfan."

"Since then, we have returned on several occasions and have always been deeply impressed by the remarkable fortitude, dignity and indomitable spirit that characterises the people of this village and the surrounding valleys.

"On this saddest of anniversaries, I send my renewed good wishes to you all."

The disaster unfolded, following days of heavy rain, when excavated mining debris from the Merthyr Vale Colliery was dislodged and came thundering down the hillside.

The waste material had been piled high on the side of Mynydd Merthyr - above Aberfan - for years, even though there were numerous underground springs below.

Children in Pantglas Junior School were just getting ready for lessons when 1.5 million cubic feet of liquefied slurry crashed into the school and a number of nearby houses.

About half the children from the junior school died in the tragedy, which happened on the last day before half term.

Coal bosses had been warned about "flowslides" prior to the disaster and, despite a 76-day public inquiry, no-one faced prosecution or lost their job.

Local residents were left with no choice but to take £150,000 from a memorial fund to pay for the clean-up bill. This was eventually returned after decades of campaigning.

Charles said "God bless you" to Marilyn Morris, 64, after hearing how she was in the last class of the senior school at the time.

"There's things I can remember now that I haven't thought about until today, the 50th anniversary," she said.

"I have three daughters and I have never spoken to them about it. I knew nearly all the children here, we knew everybody in Aberfan.

"There were six children from my street that died. We just blanked it from our minds, nobody spoke about it.

"It was such a shock that we couldn't bring ourselves to talk about it but now we are and we are feeling much better for it."

About 1,000 people attended a memorial service at the cemetery including Wales's First Minister, Carwyn Jones, and Jeff Edwards, the last person to be pulled out of the wreckage alive.

Those rescued from the debris of the junior school laid floral wreaths to their dead classmates. A minute's silence was also held across the country.

In a speech, Charles told residents: "Anyone who is old enough can remember where they were when they heard the appalling news about the Aberfan disaster.

"Aberfan showed the world the darkest sorrow, but also the most shining selflessness: a spirit which endured not just for the time of crisis, but for a lifetime.

"No-one should have to bear the losses you suffered. But no-one could have borne those losses with greater strength or greater courage.

"The motto of Merthyr Tydfil is 'nid cadarn ond brodyrdde', sometimes translated as 'not force, but fellowship'.

"In that spirit, through all you have endured, you have borne witness to the world that even the greatest loss cannot triumph over love."

During the reception, he watched performances by Ynysowen Male Voice Choir and Ynysowen and Ysgol Rhyd y Grug school choirs.

The male voice choir was set up in the aftermath of the Aberfan tragedy.

Mr Jones said the men, women and schoolchildren who tragically lost their lives should never be forgotten.

"It is a truly heart-breaking moment in our history and no-one who learns about the disaster can fail to be profoundly moved by it," he added.

Press Association

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