Lost children of King Coal

Forgotten by the nation, today Aberfan remembers the tragedy of 1966
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The Independent Online
Every community in the South Wales valleys has its own remembrance of King Coal. But in the baleful roll-call of colliery disasters which chart the history of the last century one date - 21 October, 1966 - stands out as the starkest testimony to coal's capacity for cruelty.

At 9.15am, 30 years ago today, an 800ft-high tip of coal waste towering above Aberfan collapsed. Countless tons of rubble and slurry crashed down the mountainside burying Pantglas school and dozens of houses; 116 children and 28 adults perished.

In those days post-traumatic stress counselling was unknown and Aberfan relied on the old practices of mutual help and support to find a route back to the light. Three decades on, somehow - despite the loss of 400 wage packets when the local Merthyr Vale Colliery closed in 1990 and despite the low priority accorded by government to declining coal fields - Aberfan survives. But only just.

Much has changed since a grateful nation relied on coal and the men who mined it to keep the wheels of industry turning and the homefires burning. The cavernous workmen's institutes are almost defunct. Extensive libraries which opened up a new world of economics and politics as well as fiction and poetry to eager readers have been broken up. The once omnipotent National Union of Mineworkers is now a mere shadow. Chapel congregations dwindle as Methodism retreats in step with Marxism. Choirs age and the number of entries at the annual National Eisteddfod decline. Even rugby no longer commands the following it once enjoyed.

Today Aberfan is an area where one man in five is out of work. The 6,081 people signing on compete for the 404 vacancies advertised at Merthyr Tydfil job centre. What little is on offer is not particularly well paid.

Some jobs are available at factories built by the Welsh Development Agency, the quango charged with regenerating the Welsh economy along the M4 corridor 25 miles south of Aberfan. Pacific Rim entrepreneurs receive sizeable government assistance to set up in Wales But communications are inadequate and car ownership not particularly widespread.

There will be some relief for the little town next year when Halla, a Korean firm, opens a factory a few miles away. Ironically, it will manufacture earth-moving equipment.

A garden stands where 30 years ago a generation of children was decimated. The nearby community centre buzzes with life. Today, as every year for the past 30, hundreds will gather to lay wreaths at the graves of coal's innocent victims. Forgotten by the nation, they will stand and remember.

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