Tragedies of Aberfan

Tip No. 7 was one of a number of huge mounds of unwanted material extracted from the Merthyr Vale Colliery in Aberfan, south Wales, and piled up on top of the nearby mountain, Mynydd Merthyr. On 21 October 1966, following several days of rain, it collapsed and slipped downhill. More than a quarter of its 150,000 or more cubic metres smashed into the village below in a slurry 12 metres deep. It killed 116 children and five of their teachers in their school, Pantglas Junior. The final death toll was 144. The risk of such a slide, and the state of the ground beneath the tip, were all known, but were not sufficiently taken into account by the mine’s owners, the UK’s National Coal Board (NCB), which then ran the UK’s nationalised coal mining industry.

There are known risks deep underground
That miners daren’t ignore;
But up above, in Aberfan,
Spoil tips had slipped before
For no-one thought to make such things
The subject of a law.

In Mynydd Merthyr’s porous sand
Rainwater trickled through
And flowed out from its sides as springs,
As everybody knew:
The springs were known, the streams were known,
And mapped in detail, too.

Yet those who said “We’ll tip it here”
Did so quite without knowing
(How could they, when they’d not been trained?)
The sorrow they were sowing.
Tip 7 grew on watery rock,
And one day would start flowing . . .

Some worried it might slide, but kept
Their silence, lest they lose
Their jobs or face their peers’ disdain.
Then came the dreadful news:
A hundred and sixteen children died,
Enveloped in the ooze.

Sir Edmund* blamed the NCB,
Who’d said that all was well
(And hadn’t cared to heed advice
From miners, truth to tell).
So Aberfan was failed by those
Who might have spared such hell.

* Lord Justice Sir Herbert Edmund Davies, respected Welsh barrister, Privy Councillor and Chairman of the Tribunal appointed to inquire into the Aberfan disaster. It reported in August 1967.

[Image: Nuffield College, Oxford]
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