Aberfan

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At 9.15 a.m. on Friday the twenty-first of October, 1966, spoil heap number seven, engorged with water from recent heavy rain showers, broke free from its tentative connection to the ground on which it had been haphazardly dumped and five million, three hundred thousand cubic feet of debris slipped down the valley side onto the Welsh mining village of Aberfan. Pantglas Junior School and part of a separate senior school, along with a farm and twenty terraced houses, were engulfed by its suffocating blackness. One hundred and sixteen children and twenty-eight adults were killed.

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I was seven years old at the time and I remember coming home from school on my lunch break and having the ghastly news broken to me by my mother. I remember, very clearly, the black and white images of the broken school and reports of teachers pushing doomed children under their flimsy school desks. I remember the following, long days of national shock and mourning.

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There have been so many other tragic disasters since, many causing far greater loss of life than the one that stole the children of Aberfan from their parents fifty years ago today. But, it was the Aberfan disaster which first gave to me the knowledge of life and death. It was on that school morning in the seventh year of my life that I came to know that death was not just a suitable punishment for the monsters that inhabited fairy stories and something that Jesus was raised from so that we could be given chocolate eggs by aunts and uncles on Easter morning. From then on I was fully aware that anybody could die at anytime, that children die, that I could die. From then on there was fear in my life.

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I am still haunted by my memories of that day and I was nigh on two hundred miles away from the destroyed village, safe in a town where they made shoes rather than digging coal. I am haunted because I can imagine what it was like for the families of Aberfan who lost loved ones, who lost their children, on that terrible morning. I can imagine it because I am human and it is the curse and duty of human beings to feel the pain of others. Sombre jubilees and other remembrances of the dead remind us of this duty and they should make us eager to do our utmost to make sure such obscene losses of innocent life do not happen again. It is a crying shame that, in practice, they affect us for a bitter moment and then slip out of our minds as we resign ourselves to our false belief in the inevitability of preventable carnage due to the true hardheartedness of our wastefully empathetic hearts.

Today, let us remember the suffering of the children of Aberfan and do something to stop the suffering of the children of Aleppo.

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