My grandma's sister, Edie's grandson Richard Goldsworthy, died, aged 10 on October 21st 1966 at the Pantglas Primary School, Aberfan. I am sure you will find the following series of colour photos both beautiful and very, very sad. The narrative too, is heart-breaking. To "set the scene", here is an extract from a website on the Aberfan Disaster:
In early October 1966, a ten-year-old Welsh schoolgirl named Eryl Mai Jones had something important to tell her mother.
"Mummy," she said, "I'm not afraid to die."
Her mother thought nothing more about the dream. After all, they lived in Aberfan, Wales, a poor coal-mining town. Perched high on a hill overlooking Aberfan was a coal tip, where waste from the mining process was dumped. The Aberfan coal tip caused many residents of the town to worry for their safety. So when Eryl Mai's mother heard her dream, she may have concluded that her fear of the ever-present coal tip had provoked it.
"You're too young to be talking about dying," her mother said. "Do you want a lollipop?"
On October 20, Eryl Mai woke up after having a memorable dream.
"Mummy, let me tell you about my dream last night," she said.
"Darling, I've no time now. Tell me again later."
"No, Mummy, you must listen," she said. "I dreamt I went to school and there was no school there. Something black had come down all over it".
Eryl Mai went off to Pantglas Junior School that day as usual. Nothing unusual happened. The next day, Friday, October 21, she did the same. But at 9:15 that morning, the coal tip gave way, sending tons of coal sludge, water, and boulders onto the village below. The avalanche mowed down everything in its path, including stone houses and trees, and swept toward the Pantglas School, where it crushed the back of the school.
In all, 144 people were killed, most of them children at the school. Eryl Mai Jones was one of the victims.
In May 2004, I finally visited the area - a place where my maternal grandmother was born and where my mum spent many long holidays. As a child, mum actually went down the Merthyr Vale colliery and came away with a piece of coal as a souvenir.
It was a beautiful warm and sunny day when I saw it all for myself. Nearly 40 years ago, we watched on our televisions and wept with the Queen at the terrible sights and the raw anger and emotion of the lovely Welsh people of Merthyr Vale & Aberfan. I shed a few tears again as I climbed to the beautiful cemetary and read the inscriptions on the memorial. As I have said, My great-aunt Edie's grandson Richard Goldsworthy, aged 10, died at Pantglas School that day. I never met him, but I mourn him. It made it all so personal to me. I'm so glad I finally got to see the view from his resting place. It's a heavenly sight.
This is a remarkable story of heroism and it must be said, stark incompetence.
At 9.15 am on Friday, October 21, 1966 a waste tip slid down a mountainside into the mining village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Vale in the South Wales valleys. Half a million tonnes of coal waste in a tidal wave 40 ft high hit the village. It first destroyed a farm cottage in its path, killing all the occupants. At Pantglas Junior School, just below, the children had just returned to their classes after singing the hymn, "All Things Bright and Beautiful", at their assembly. It was sunny on the mountain but foggy in the village, with visibility about 50 yards.The tipping gang up the mountain had seen the slide start, but could not raise the alarm because their telephone cable had been repeatedly stolen. (The Tribunal of Inquiry later established that the disaster happened so quickly that a telephone warning would not have saved lives.)
Down in the village, nobody saw anything, but everybody heard the noise. Gaynor Minett, an eight-year-old at the school, remembered four years later:
"It was a tremendous rumbling sound and all the school went dead. You could hear a pin drop. Everyone just froze in their seats. I just managed to get up and I reached the end of my desk when the sound got louder and nearer, until I could see the black out of the window. I can't remember any more but I woke up to find that a horrible nightmare had just begun in front of my eyes."
The slide engulfed the school and about 20 houses in the village before coming to rest. Then there was total silence. George Williams, who was trapped in the wreckage, remembered that 'In that silence you couldn't hear a bird or a child'.
144 people died in the Aberfan disaster: 116 of them were school children. About half of the children at Pantglas Junior School, and five of their teachers, were killed. In one classroom 14 bodies were found and outside mothers struggled deep in mud, clamouring to find their children. Many were led away weeping.
The deputy head teacher, Mr Beynon, was found dead. "He was clutching five children in his arms as if he had been protecting them," said a rescuer. Three people died in the farm hit by the disaster and a pregnant woman whose son was killed in the tragedy went into labour when she heard the tragic news.
So horrifying was the disaster that everybody wanted to do something. Hundreds of people stopped what they were doing, threw a shovel in the car, and drove to Aberfan to try and help with the rescue. It was futile; the untrained rescuers merely got in the way of the trained rescue teams. Nobody was rescued alive after 11am on the day of the disaster, but it was nearly a week before all the bodies were recovered.
At the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Aberfan Disaster the National Coal Board was found to have been responsible for the disaster due to "ignorance, ineptitude and a failure of communication". The collapse was found to have been caused by a build up of water in the pile - when a small rotational slip occurred the saturated fine material of the tip liquefied and it flowed down the mountain.
1 - Severn Bridge (to get from England into Wales)
2 - The site of the Pantglas Junior School Disaster - now a Memorial Garden
3 - The Memorial - the inscription reads "Children, Come Unto Me"
4 - The beautiful resting place for the Children of Pantglas Junior School (116 children and 28 adults died that day)
5 - The Inscription reads "In Memory of Richard, who loved Light, Freedom and Animals"
Richard Phillip, aged 10, Beloved Son of Gwenda and Arthur Goldsworthy.
6 - The children's peaceful, eternal views across the valley
7 - Merthyr Valley
8 - View of Cemetary across the valley from the house where Gran was born
9 - Danyderi Houses - where Gran was born
10 - 4, Nixonville - where my mother stayed with her Aunt Edie & Uncle Ivor in the 1910's
11 - River Taff to rear of Nixonville
12 - River Taff to rear of Nixonville
13 - The landscaped site of Merthyr Vale Colliery (closed in 1990), across the road from Nixonville
There now follows a sequence of old photographs taken at the time of the Disaster on Friday October 21st 1966. The contrast between these terrifying images and the beautiful landscapes of the 21st century cannot be more marked.
The deaths of 116 school children and 28 adults were the, perhaps, unacceptable price that had to be paid - together with the eventual closure of the Merthyr Vale mine - to ensure that such a terrible tragedy could never happen again.
As I strolled quietly away from the communal grave on that beautiful, warm early summer's afternoon, my thoughts returned once again to that never-to-be-forgotten day back in the autumn of 1966 and to Richard Goldsworthy,aged 10, who loved Light, Freedom and Animals.
A whole generation of children had been snatched away from their friendly, loving community. And now, parents of those children, once so consumed with grief, are themselves being interred with their sons and daughters near the beautiful mountainside in that Welsh valley.
May they all rest in peace.
A Family Reunion in 2016
Richard's brother David returned to the UK from Canada for the 50th Anniversary of the Disaster on 21st October 2016. He appeared on BBC television's main news bulletin that evening in a short interview and it was a delight to welcome David and his charming wife Jo-Ellen to a special Reunion with many "West Country" members of his extended family, kindly organised by cousin Kate Killick, in Yeovil a few days later on the 27th October.
We were all delighted to meet them both, but two of our family, Terry & Rosemary Palmer, were unable to attend that day as Rosemary was in hospital in Exeter. As a result, they are missing from the group photograph below which was taken at the reunion. Also shown below is a photo of Kate, John Stephens, David & Jo-Ellen intently studying some items of interest.
Artist Terence Brady had most kindly given his permission for me to include his oil painting "Children Playing" on my website.
Terence commenced the work the day after the Disaster in 1966, describing it in an email to me as "in memory of the children". It had been exhibited twice and was, at the time of our correspondence, hanging in his study.
He would have very much liked to have donated "Children Playing" (which measures approx. 4'6" x 3'6") to the people of Aberfan if he was able to find a suitable home for it in the area to enable the general public to view it.
I really felt that his fine effort deserved greater recognition and the possibility for the people of Aberfan to appreciate the power of the work, and I was delighted to reproduce it here on my site.
Sadly, Terence passed away at his Somerset home on 29th September 2016 - just three weeks before the Aberfan Disaster's 50th Anniversary.
Together with his wife Charlotte Bingham, to whom he was married for over 52 years, Terence had a long and varied career as a playwright, television and stage actor, author, cookery writer and breeder of thoroughbred racehorses and eventers.