CHURCHES in Wales are holding services today and at the weekend to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, in which 116 children and 28 adults died when slurry from a hillside coal-heap slid on to the village, burying classrooms at Pantglas Junior School.
The annual service and wreath-laying ceremony will take place at Aberfan Bryntaf cemetery memorial at 9.15 a.m. — the slip engulfed the school at 9.13 a.m. on 21 October 1966 — and a further service will be held at St Mary and the Holy Innocents, Nixonville, Merthyr Vale, at 7 p.m. The Methodist minister who covered the Aberfan area at the time, the Revd Irving Penberthy, is to preach. St David’s, Merthyr, is to be open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. today for prayer or quiet reflection.
Yesterday, the Assistant Bishop of Llandaff, the Rt Revd David Wilbourne, addressed a remembrance service at St David’s, Merthyr Tydfil. Music was sung by the Ynysowen Male Choir, formed a couple of years after the disaster as a means to help men and the village community recover.
In his sermon, Bishop Wilbourne recalled that the Rt Revd Glyn Simon, the then Bishop of Llandaff and future Archbishop of Wales, immediately blamed the Coal Board for negligence concerning coal tips in the area. The Board’s chairman, Lord Robens, called for Bishop Simon’s resignation, threatening him with defamation.
The First Minister of Wales, Carwen Jones, told the Senedd on Wednesday that Aberfan changed Wales for ever. He said that people had known the danger of mining, “but they didn’t realise that the price would be so extortionate. Who would have thought that coal could take the lives of children, so suddenly and above the ground?”
“We offer support and I hope some comfort as [people] deal with the memories of that day, when winter darkness came early to the people of Aberfan.”
The Labour AM for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, Dawn Bowden, said: “What happened that day shows us [that] the price of coal in a place whose only reason for existence was to dig for it, was too great a price for any community to pay.
“But coal had also created these mining communities whose values of solidarity, comradeship, and community spirit were rarely seen elsewhere.” Assembly Members held a minute’s silence.
Immediately after the disaster struck, Bishop Simon — who himself had lost a child in infancy — cleared his diary, and visited every bereaved home, and had a cup of tea around the hearth of each grieving parent, Bishop Wilbourne said.
In addition, “prompted by the Vicar of Aberfan, Glyn Simon also issued a rare archiepiscopal decree that, when Aberfan’s church was eventually rebuilt, it was to be a new double dedication: to Mary, Mother of Our Lord and All Holy Innocents.”
A half-muffled peal is to be rung at Llandaff Cathedral on Sunday before the 11 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. services.