How can it be that an event nearly 50 years ago of which I had no part of and which just passed me by makes me cry every year on its anniversary ? What is it about Aberfan ? Is it because some of the children were the same age as me ? Is it the nearness of the place ? I listen to the older men in the pub talk about how they jumped into their cars with their picks and shovels and they couldnít get near the place, every able bodied man in South Wales was queuing to get into Aberfan to help out. They were turned away, Aberfan was full and they felt helpless. I would have done the same, we all would have. So what is it then, that stirs the emotions and makes me cry, why do I feel just as helpless as those men who were turned back. Is there nothing I can do to help ?
Searching for clues I came across a paragraph in an essay on Aberfan that I feel answered my question.
ďThe lack of any real economic replacement for the closed collieries means that the valleys are a region unable to escape their past.
The dominant narrative of that past is one of united and vibrant communities struggling against a tide of exploitation and deprivation. Along with strikes, dole queues and soup kitchens, the Aberfan disaster is part of a history that still casts its long shadow over the south Wales coalfield.Ē
I re-read this line in that paragraph
"The dominant narrative of that past is one of united and vibrant communities struggling against a tide of exploitation and deprivation."
Then it struck me ! The Aberfan disaster was a battle lost in a REAL WAR, this is a war my family have been fighting for generations, the one to stay alive, the one to survive in the pits and the works. The working class of Wales against the employers, in this case the NCB.
And whilst I donít wish to diminish the effect of the Great War (1914-1918) on the people of Wales and the world, with its centenary this year thereís been a lot of publicity & commemoration about it and I do take that minute to pay my respects to the fallen in November but it was fought overseas, in countries like France & Belgium & Germany and in places Iíve never heard of and will never go, Ypres, the Somme, Paschendale. But Aberfan is different I know where that is, and on every occasion when I see or hear the name Aberfan I think of only one thing, that day in 1966, and when I drive down the A470 and pass through Aberfan I think of only one thing, and I look around and ask myself which mountain did the slurry come down? Where is the school? Where is the cemetery? I want to understand more about what happened but I fear going to Aberfan, I fear visiting the site just in case Iím viewed as a tourist, as someone who doesnít care. I donít want to bump into a family member visiting a grave and intrude on their grief. But I think I understand now why I cry, their grief is my grief, Aberfan is the symbol for all the disasters, Aberfan is the tip of the iceberg that is the history of working class pain in Wales and the answer is itís in my DNA and thatís why I cry, Iím crying for my ancestors who fought in this war, for my dad the steelworker who came home regularly with burns on his arms, my grandfather the tinworker, the same, my great grandfather, the coal miner and the generations before them, the tears are theirs, not mine, they know the pain and suffering of Aberfan.
So this year at 9.15am on the 21st October 2014 I took a minute to cwtch my loved ones and remember the fallen of Aberfan.
Next year and the year after and forever more I'm going to do the same and Iíll cwtch my children and grand children too, but I think Iíll extend those thoughts and Iím going to remember the miners of Senghenydd, of Gresford, of Cilfynydd and Llanerch, for the Gleision miners of Pontardawe and the hundreds of pits when men lost their lives. Iím going to take that minute not just for the coal miners Iím going to take it for the slate quarrymen of North Wales, the ironworkers of Cyfartha & Dowlais, the steelworkers of Port Talbot, the copper miners of Parys mountain & workers of Swansea. The list goes on and on but Iím going to take that minute and give it to all those that have given their lives in the struggle to survive in Wales, and to all those Iíve loved and lost, Iím going to think about my mum and my dad and my friends. But at the end of that list Iím going to come back to that one thing that haunts our nation and remember the greatest tragedy of all, the 116 children and the 28 adults who died in Aberfan because these too were my comrades in arms, my brothers, my sisters and my friends.
And my question is this, next year and every year at 9.15am on the 21st of October will you join me in a Ďcwtch of rememberanceí for the lost loved ones of Wales ?