On this day in October 1966 I was ten years old and living in a small village in Cornwall. I’d gone out for a walk in the afternoon and wherever I went, people were talking to each other about a terrible thing that had happened that morning in a Welsh village.
I don’t remember hearing about disasters very much when I was young, so this made a deep impression on me. It was as if the whole village felt it. News travelled a little slower back then, but the grainy images on a neighbours black and white television set was showing hundreds of people trying to rescue children from a school that had been covered in an avalanche of mining waste. Thousands of tons of slag, made unstable due to the rain, had slid down a hill and covered houses and an entire primary school. Many children my age had died, I heard.
One neighbour shooed me away, saying to her husband: “He’s too young to listen to this; these are kids his age. He’ll get affected by it.”
Affected I was. For days afterwards we were told harrowing stories of the little children who had been at their lessons when the hill simply slid down on top of their school. The black slag came in through the windows of their classrooms, covering them and everything else. We had bad dreams about it, and wrote letters to ‘The children of Aberfan’ to show our support and solidarity. A collection was taken up, and I brought a threepenny bit from home.
News wasn’t just ‘the news’ then, where you could choose to distant yourself from all the bad things in the world. This was real children who had died, 116 of them within a few minutes, in a small village just like ours, and in a primary school just like ours. We were connected.
Aberfan, 21st October 1966