At 9.15 on the morning of October the 21st 1966 a coal tip slides off a mountainside above Aberfan. The slip engulfs Pantglas Junior School and 18 houses in Moy Road. Wives, mothers, minors and teachers attempt to dig the children out. Half the 240 children are safe, the others are trapped or smothered.
9.30am – First outside help arrives from the fire brigade.
9.42am – Merthyr Tydfil police advise Glamorgan Police of the accident.
9.50am – First casualty admitted to St. Tydfil’s Hospital.
10.10am – Glamorgan Police and Civil Defence mobilising to help.
10.30am – BBC News Flash. Offers of help pour in.
10.45am – First broken water main shut off.
11.00am – Last live child brought out of the school. 22 Children and 5 adults admitted to St. Tydfil’s Hospital; a further 9 go to East Glamorgan Hospital. In London the National Coal Board meet. The Director in charge of production prepares to leave for Aberfan.
11.30am – The second broken water main shut off.
12.00 noon – National Coal Board start cutting drainage channel to stabilise tip.
1.35 pm – Prime Minister is informed.
5.00pm – The Prime Minster in a telephone discussion with Secretary of State decides that PM to visit Aberfan right away. 20 bodies recovered; 36 injured in hospital. 150 are missing.
7.00pm – Buckingham Palace advises Lord Lieutenant that Duke Of Edinburgh may wish to visit Aberfan.
8.00pm – Buckingham Palace contacts the Duke of Edinburgh and confirm visit for next morning.
9.40pm – Prime Minster visits Aberfan, leaving at Midnight.
10.00pm – 60 bodies recovered.
October 22nd 2am – 83 bodies recovered.
3am – Lord Snowden in Aberfan for two hours returning at day break.
6am – 100th body recovered.
11am – The Duke of Edinburgh in Aberfan.
2pm – the rain starts.
4pm – Secretary of State gets ready to order an evacuation of the site due to heavy rain. Coal Board engineers give an assurance that recovery should continue.
5pm – Rain becomes heavy , situation becomes serious.
6pm – Crisis point in heavy rain which is aggravated by the number of volunteers. Tip is still stable.
7pm – The rain eases.
11.40pm – First help from Army personnel requested.
12 midnight – 118 bodies now recovered.
October 23rd Lord Robbens and National Coal Board officials say unknown stream was the cause of slide. Disaster fund reaches £5000.
Recorded TV programme made by ATV in the TWW studios in Cardiff. A survivor interviewed on how she had been brought through a classroom window:
Interviewer: What did you see?
Child: We saw all the boys cut and they were scrapped and things.
Interviewer: And where did you go?
Child: I ran home.
Interviewer: What were… tell me about these boys again. What did they look like?
Child: Some were cut on the neck and cut on the legs.
Interviewer: So will you have to find someone else to play with?
October 24th – Inquest opened: outburst by father demanding ‘buried alive by National Coal Board’ on certificate.
Disaster fund reaches £12,500.
Fyfe Robertson interviews the tip charge Leslie Davies regarding the claim by the NCB that the stream under the tip was unknown to them.
Leslie Davies: Well I think myself water running down from the mountain and the brooks.
Fyfe Robertson: Now wait a minute, there has always been a stream near the tip, hasn’t there?
Leslie Davies: Yes, yes.
Fyfe Robertson: Well is there anything different in recent years or months?
Leslie Davies: No, nothing different, the streams have been there, we’ve seen them, we know where they are, the brooks run down the mountains.
Fyfe Robertson: They were normally running down beside the tip, weren’t they?
Leslie Davies: Beside the tip, yes.
Fyfe Robertson: Now, I’ve heard this said and I would like to have your opinion on this, that in the case of the fatal tip the waste was actually tipped on top of the stream, is this true in your opinion?
Leslie Davies: Yes we have tipped on top of the stream, yes.
Fyfe Robertson: Now is this normal practice, have you ever done it before, have you ever seen it done before?
Leslie Davies: No, not on top of a stream. There’s a spring of water coming up from underground which you can’t stop, well, that has been there ever since I’ve known it. We’ve sent men down there to fill our cans with water to boil tea down at that spring.
Fyfe Robertson: What do you say about the statement made by Lord Robbens of the National Coal Board, informed now doubt by his experts that they have discovered an unknown spring inside the tip and that this possibly caused the disaster?
Leslie Davies: Well, I don’t know about an unknown spring, that spring has been there ever since I’ve known it.
Fyfe Robertson: Did you get instructions to tip on top of the spring?
Leslie Davies: No,the instruction I got was tip, that’s all. My instruction to tip muck, isn’t it?
Fyfe Robertson: Did it make you uneasy Mr Davies when you did tip on top of this stream?
Leslie Davies: No, that never made me uneasy because we’ve never seen a thing like this.
Fyfe Robertson: I tell you one thing that puzzles me: if you tipped on top of a stream surely one way or another the water would find its way out again.
Leslie Davies: Bound to, you know.
Fyfe Robertson: Well then wouldn’t that obviate the danger?
Leslie Davies: Well, water is bound to find its way out isn’t it? By tipping muck and rubbish and tipping over it, it blocks it in and so much that the water builds up inside the tip like a dam. Well, it’s got to burst.
Fyfe Robertson: Do you think it was the pressure of this water that caused the waste to spring up before it fell?
Leslie Davies: Yes, definitely, yes.
Fyfe Robertson: How often are the inspections carried out of the tip you’re working on?
Leslie Davies: Well…
Fyfe Robertson: When did you last see an expert come up and have a look at it?
Leslie Davies: I’ve never seen an expert in the village, not an expert.
October 24th Disaster fund reaches £12,500. The newspapers print that the Aberfan tip had slipped in 1944 and 1963.
October 25th – £50 distributed from to NCB to the bereaved. This is the maximum they can contribute without accepting responsibility.
October 26th – First private funerals. Fund reaches £70,000.
October 27th – Mass funeral. Press gag announced by Attorney General.
October 28th – Final body found, death roll of 144. Plus a soldier of 22 newly married, who spent some of his disembarkation time leave on rescue work at Aberfan dies hitchhiking home.
October 31st – Death roll officially established at 116 children and 28 adults. Aberfan parents tell Merthyr Council they will not send their children to temporary accommodation at Merthyr School because of location under coal tip.
November 3rd – Aberfan parents demand majority membership on disaster fund committee. They are allowed one member and one councillor.
November 11th – Welsh Office announces tip clearance unit.
November 24th – Fund reaches 1 million pounds.
December 7th – Ronald Hicks Glamorgan Civil Defence officer awarded gold medal by Institute of Civil Defence.
December 8th – Chief Constable corrects any impression that Ronald Hicks was in overall charge of rescue work.
December 9th – Mayor appeals to the two men to bury the hatchet.
January 31st 1967 – Disaster fund closes at £1,606,929.
February 8th – 1,500 people sign petition demanding removal of coal tips above village. The Wilson Government eventually take £150,000 from the disaster fund to complete this.
March 7th – Suggestion box placed in Aberfan for 3 weeks on ideas how to spend the fund.
March 20th – Jeremy Thorpe MP introduces National Disaster Fund Bill in House of Commons. This will give guidance on any future disasters.
June 16th – Jeremy Thorpe’s National Disaster Fund fails.
June 19th – Mother of survivor receives anonymous letter threatening her child’s life.
July, 1997 – Ron Davies, the First Secretary of State for Wales under Tony Blair returns the £150,000 taken from the fund. Although by today’s values (2009) it should have been £1,500,000.
ABERFAN – THE DIARY
(all the facts below were reported by different people in Aberfan)
Woman: Thursday the 20th of October, 1966. I’m not speaking to Harry. Well to be honest he’s not speaking to me if truth be told. That Alf Garnett nonsense is on TV and I find him ever so rude. So Harry says if I don’t like it, I can lump it or go upstairs. So here I am diary. Oh and the other thing is that Harry still has his England flag flying out the back yard. I keep telling him, I know he’s proud to be English but this is Aberfan and we did not win the World Cup. Besides, it’s been nearly 3 months since he came staggering drunk up Moy road singing ‘we won the cup’. It’s a miracle the locals didn’t thump him one. As it is, the kids all take pot shots at the flag with their catapults. Last Saturday one kid missed the flag and it smashed the window in our hut. Talking of kids, our David is still awake. He says he can’t sleep. I thought it was excitement about Halloween coming soon but he says it isn’t. I know him – he’s probably sneaked a chocolate bar into his bed. I keep telling him he shouldn’t eat before bed time, it gives him wild dreams and I was right. Just ten minutes ago he was at this very door telling me about the man dressed in black standing in his bedroom telling him that he should not go to school. I ask you, what will kids think of next? Well diary I can hear Harry coming up the stairs so I’ll swiftly say goodnight.
Woman: Friday the 21st of October, 1966. Good morning diary and yes it is unusual for me to write in the morning but it’s been such a struggle to get David to go to school. He insisted that the man in his room told him not to go to school. I told him to grow up and not be a baby. He said he wasn’t a baby and he stormed off. He usually wants me to walk him to school. He likes Friday’s as there is no assembly and he has a few extra minutes playing in the boy’s playground. He’ll be back when he wants fed telling me how sorry he is.
I must say I am fed up to the back teeth with all this rain – it has rained non stop for the last six weeks – Harry says the folks in Merthyr have all developed webbed feet.
Ooops, there’s someone at the door I’ll say cheerio for now.
Well back again, that was just Mrs Jones – she asked had I heard anything about the school being closed. I said I hadn’t. I mean it’s only 9.30 now, why would they close the school so early? Anyway Mrs Jones seemed happy enough and walked off for catch her bus to Cardiff. The funny thing is the electric has gone off – I had put on the kettle and it just died. Maybe the school has been affected too.
Writing this by candle light. What time is it? 10.15pm. Harry said I should get indoors and do something to take my mind off of it. He’s gone back out to keep digging. My David is one of the children missing. Why did I let him go to school? About 9.15 this morning one of the tips slipped down the hill. It hit the school and a few of the houses as well. Mister Southford’s wife and children are missing. Nice family. One of the Southford boys was at school and the other stayed at home as he was unwell but the tip hit his home. I heard someone say the wave of slurry was 30 foot high as it came down the hillside. I heard there are about 200 children missing and my David is one of them. Teachers are missing as well. Harry says the tip hit the water mains and the water is pushing the slurry forwards. He says he won’t stop digging until he finds David and brings him home.
Woman: 3.43am Saturday 22nd of October. Someone brought a primus stove to the door, I can’t remember who. So I’m keeping the water warm for a cup of tea just in case Harry comes home. I walked up to the school earlier but the police told me not to get too near. I said my son was under there and a tall police officer, a nice man, said he understood as his two daughters were there also. I could see that all the houses across from the school had also gone. As I walked back down Moy road I met four Scotsman who had come to help. The youngest one told me that they had travelled all the way from Dundee the minute they heard the news. They said not to worry that they would find my son.
Woman: 7.15am Saturday. Harry came in for a change and went straight back out again. I haven’t slept. I was talking to Mrs Smith and she told me that they haven’t found anyone alive since 11am yesterday. Her boy, Tommy, was taken to Cardiff as they had to break his legs to get him out from under a desk. I know my son is alive, I can feel him. Harry said they had found five children alive, bless them, under a teacher. She didn’t survive. She still had the dinner money she was collecting clutched in her hand. She’d thrown herself on top of the children and that’s what had saved them.
Woman: 10.27am He’s alive, our David is alive. Some kind woman, Janice I think her name was told me that David is alive and well in Merthyr Hospital. Thank you God. Janice is with the Salvation Army at the home, The House Of Trees, I think they call it. She said she’d get word to Harry. I said was she sure – she said she’d spoken to David and said that his Mum was Esther and his father was called Harry and they lived in Moy Road. My world is okay. It seems that David’s face was so blackened that no one recognised him. I told Janice that I would like to see him. She said she’d get someone to drive me up there.
Woman: 11.15. You’ll never believe who just dropped in for a cuppa. The Queen’s husband. There was a knock at the door and suddenly Prince Phillip and Lord Snowdon are standing in my kitchen as bold as you like. I told them that Harry was still digging and that David was in hospital. Lord Snowdon said he’d been there all night and had talked to Harry. The men and women were doing a fantastic job. The two of them were ever so nice. Prince Phillip commented on my china cups, said he’d ask his wife to get the same,then he winked at me.
Woman: Sunday, 23rd of October, I’m not sure what the time is, as the clocks all changed last night. It caught most people out this morning but they’ve got more important things to worry about. I saw David and he’s fine. He wanted to come home but the doctor felt he should stay in hospital for another couple of days as he had breathed in a lot of the muck. When I told Harry that David was okay, his face beamed like England had won the World Cup all over again. He told me that they had pulled out 118 dead bodies, children and adults. And I cried and I cried and I cried. Mrs Taylor said that an unknown stream was the cause of the tip moving but she said that the villagers knew it was there even if the National Coal Board didn’t. It’s been raining heavy all night, it just won’t seem to stop.
Woman: Wednesday 26th of October. David is home now. I can’t seem to get him to smile but I know I’m one of the lucky ones. Everyone is wearing black. Today is the first of the funerals. Tomorrow they are going to bury 82 of those poor souls in a mass grave.
Woman: Friday 28th of October, 1966. They found the last body today. That makes 116 children and 28 adults. Mrs Taylor told me that one of the older brothers of a child who survived had died of a heart attack during the rescue, he was only 19. I’ve got my David and my Harry and that’s enough to be getting on with.
Woman: Saturday 29th of October. Prince Phillip returned with his wife, the Queen. He seemed very stern, not the man that sat in my kitchen. As he was moving away he saw me and gave me a big smile.
Woman: November 2nd. They’ve opened up a play centre for the school pupils, so David is now able to get back to playing with his friends. The disaster fund has reached over a million pounds, however the National Coal Board apparently want to take £150,000 to make all the tips safe. I don’t know who these people think they are but the Coal Board want to charge £72 rent for each of the caravans they lent to the folks who were made homeless.
Woman: April 10th, 1967. Today they started demolishing the old school. David has moved to a new temporary one in Aberfan Park. Harry thinks we should go to Tenbay on holiday this year. For the first time, Harry smiled.
bobby stevenson 2016