This is Ronnie Davis, the first boy photographed by IC Rapoport in the aftermath of the tragedy. He lost his older brother in the landslide. His house, close to the school, was destroyed. Out walking his dog, he looked about the ruins of his house.
“Altered Rain” is a demo excerpt of piano parts from my new composition Aberfan. Conceived to represent the thousands of people coming down the hillside following the mass funeral on a “windswept, grey” Thursday less than one week after the disaster, this musical section turns “Rain Sequence” — which occurs at the beginning of the composition, before the landslide –upside down.
From one of our email exchanges, his words: “The team in the mortuary were composed entirely of Regional Crime Squad Officers drawn from all over Wales….We were tasked to set up a mortuary, and identify the 144 victims of the disaster. I was designated the Senior Identification Officer and worked with my team in the mortuary at Bethania Chapel in Moy Road, Aberfan for 15 days until the last body, and body piece, was identified.
Aberfan was a small village. No police station, no town hall, no gymnasium which was why we had to use the totally inadequate facilities of the Sunday school room at the rear of the chapel for receiving, washing the bodies etc. and the body of the chapel itself to place the bodies for viewing. Once a body had been identified and the cause of death recorded by a pathologist, without exception asphyxiation and multiple crush injuries, Death Certificates needed to be issued.
It now sounds very incongruous and bizarre but they were issued from a local land mark, the village fish and chip shop.
In my handwriting, a notice was placed on the door of the chapel directing families to that location.”
I am deeply grateful for all that he has passed on to me.
A few days ago, Sophie-Ann Williams of North Wales contacted me. She was hoping to find out more about her Grandfather, the late Reverend Colin Peter Bessant, who helped to dig those days of the Aberfan Disaster. She sent along this photo of him which had been cut out of Life magazine. Paula Bessant Williams, Sophie’s mother, said “My Dad never spoke about it without getting really upset. Just said it was the greed of man…”
If anyone has any information about him, please leave a reply at the bottom of this post and I will pass it along to Sophie-Ann and Paula.
On October 21, 1966, in the small mining village of Aberfan, Wales, a man-made mountain of coal waste catastrophically collapsed on a primary school and nearby houses, killing 116 children and 28 adults.
A Tribunal investigating the 1966 events found that the National Coal Board was entirely responsible for failing to act to prevent the disaster, though they were never prosecuted.
“The story of the Aberfan disaster is seared into the memories of a generation of people in South Wales, and it remains a tragedy of huge proportions.”
I first wrote to Dave in May 2013 after reading his post, commemorating the 45th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, which was so helpful in picturing and understanding how this catastrophe occurred, what led up to it and what followed, all vital to the composition.
Dave Petley is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.
In 1966, my Mom wrote a song when she heard and read about the landslide in the news. My father wrote down Mom’s lyrics on a sheet of his graph paper in November 1966. The small letters above the last chorus and verse are the chords.
In the midst of the deepest revision of Aberfan, my own modern composition, I realized this question: how do you have words for such tragedy? Should I use any lyrics at all? If I did (for there are memories, and attempts to tell the story), the words themselves must be like the event, scattered, broken phrases, yet of a whole.
Here are the words that I kept, spliced together for my own piece, cut out from Mom’s lyric.