9:15 today (21st October 2016), will marked the 50th anniversary of one of the worst disasters to hit the South Wales valleys. This disaster was horrific and still leaves a black cloud over the small village of Aberfan. This disaster had such an effect on the surrounding area that if you ask anyone who was alive at the time where they were when they heard about it, they’ll remember. The disaster I’m speaking of is the day a coal tip fell onto the school in Aberfan killing 116 children and 28 adults.
When I was a child, if the disaster was mentioned, it was always spoken of with a quiet reverence and respect for those who died but I never really understood the impact of the disaster. Now as an adult and a mother, I know how it must have affected those in the area at the time. All those lives lost in one day. Such young people. Now as an adult, I cannot read about the disaster without tears forming in my eyes. Such a waste of life.
I’veseen the coal tips on the top of the Blorage mountain in Abergavenny and how dangerous they could be. The ones there are foothills compared to the tip that was behind the school in Aberfan. In the film The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain mentioned a tip that was so high it was included in a map. I can well believe it.
Much as I want to talk about the loss of life that day, I want this post to be about something else. Something positive. I know what you’re think: how can you find something positive in such an horrific disaster? Well, I find two things.
As soon as people in the surrounding area found out what had happened, they grabbed a shovel and headed for the site to help. Hundreds of people went to help. My grandfather was there for two days helping. My first boss told me that her husband who was a student in Cardiff at the time went to help. The community came together to help the families find their children. And these rescue attempts had an effect on everyone who was there. Can you imagine how hard it must have been to dig out so many bodies of children? How can you not be affected by it?
Another positive is that the children that survived the disaster didn’t allow themselves to become victims. The community as a whole fought for coal tips to be made safe and to commemorate the disaster. One of the survivors became the mayor of Merthyr Tydfil. Some have become writers, historians, doctors, solicitors and any number of careers.
There must be a psychological effect of surviving a disaster that makes these children achieve greatness. After all Andy Murray and his brother were in school in Dunblane when a gunman opened fire on their schoolmates on 13th March 1996. I remember I was about 14 at the time and I went into my biology lesson after break to be told by my teacher that his wife had phoned breaktime to tell him about it. It’s a sad sign of the times that my father felt the need to tell us children what to do when someone opened fire.
The thing is, life is full of adversity and what defines us isn’t the problems we have but how we survive them. I’ve certainly learned that I need to stop thinking like a victim and start thinking like a survivor. What are you?