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    19 October, 2006


    Yesterday, in the Assembly, we marked the 40th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster with a minute's silence, after the moving words spoken by my colleague, Huw Lewis, AM for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney:

    Huw Lewis: I thank you, Presiding Officer,
    and my fellow Assembly Members, for
    allowing me to speak for the Assembly this

    The week leading up to the anniversary of the
    Aberfan disaster is always a time of trial for
    my community. This week should be a time
    purely for remembrance and not for politics. I
    would therefore like to say just a few words
    of tribute to those local people and friends of
    Aberfan, many of whom have worked
    through their personal grief again this year,
    and helped yet again to mark the upcoming
    anniversary in a simple and dignified way.

    The disaster that occurred on that October
    day 40 years ago was shocking in its
    brutality—like all mining disasters—but it
    held a deeper resonance of horror because its
    victims, in the main, were the children of
    Aberfan. It was because it was children in
    their classrooms who bore the brunt of the
    truly industrial scale of man’s stupidity that
    Aberfan became a tragedy of global

    The tenacity and determination of the rescue
    workers on that day showed heroism—and
    they saw things that no-one should have to
    see. The living daily courage of the bereaved,
    the survivors and the wider community in the
    long days, months, and years that followed
    showed us something beyond the heroic
    deed, which is something that is also worth
    remembering. Their burden of grief returned
    day after day, but this also galvanised the
    community to share sorrow and to build
    futures for those who survived and those who
    came after. There was also the dailyexhibition of dignity despite near-intolerable
    heartache. These were, and are, human
    qualities of a community with incredible

    Seneca said, long ago, that there are times
    when it is an act of courage merely to live.
    The courage of Aberfan was wholly special
    and remarkable, but then I believe that these
    people always were special and remarkable.
    The disaster did not make them that way;
    they were already strong in their community,
    sharing and dignified. The great Welsh social
    scientist, Raymond Williams, once said that
    the community culture created by Welsh
    mining villages was the greatest achievement
    of the British working class. I grew up in one,
    and I agree.

    Perhaps the only indisputable thing that all
    human beings have in common in their lives
    is that they will all face sorrow and loss. If
    that is true, it follows that all else is for us to
    create. That includes our response to loss.
    Forty years ago, the community of Aberfan
    looked into an abyss of loss, but the abyss did
    not dominate; Aberfan’s response was deeply
    courageous. That response was slowly but
    surely to turn to life and to the future.

    From the perspective of one such as me,
    whose childhood encompassed the aftermath
    of the disaster, it is important to understand
    what happened after that October day.

    The name of Aberfan once only conjured
    images of tragedy, disaster and, of course,
    courage in the face of adversity. However,

    slowly and surely, Aberfan has reclaimed
    notions of strength, confidence and hope for
    a bright future for today’s children. Forty
    years on, let us join to reflect not just on
    yesterday’s but on that hope for

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    Promoted by Leighton Andrews AM, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff CF99 1NA.

    Author's editorial policy: This blog does not publish anonymous comments, unless they are really witty and I like them. If you have something to say, then have the courage of your convictions and use your name or an identifiable alias. Even then I reserve the right not to publish comments that are malicious, defamatory, stupid, pointlessly cynical or boring. Any of the statements or comments made above should be regarded as personal and not necessarily those of the National Assembly for Wales, any constituent part or connected body.