Tributes

Tributes to a Generation

Welsh singer Paul Child sings ‘The Price of Coal’

The Aberfan Coal Tip Tragedy

(sung by Raymond Crooke, used by permission)


The mining men of Wales are hardy, strong and bold,
And they tunnel in the earth and make it yield its coal.
But in the town of Aberfan, it’s dearer now than gold,
For one generation, for the profit has been sold.

How many died in Aberfan
When the coal tip came rumbling down?
How many children will never grow old?
How many lives purchase how many tons of coal?

The little school of Pantglas lay where the mountain loomed,
And some two hundred children took their lessons in its rooms.
The day fall recess was to begin, they went to meet their doom,
Not knowing “the green hollow” would soon become their tomb.

Chorus

It was just 9:00 AM when they opened up the door,
And in came the children, two hundred, maybe more,
For nobody knew what the mountain had in store.
The lucky ones were tardy, the others are no more.

Chorus

” I played with my big dog, I played with my cat.”
Signed “Paul, October 21.” There’s nothing after that.
For the mountain came down, and everyone was trapped,
And now there’s only coal slag where little Paul once sat.

Chorus

In eighteen hundred and seventy-four, the first pit shaft went down,
And they started piling mining waste on the slopes above the town.
And everybody knew that the practice was unsound
But for ninety-two years no better place was found.

Chorus

The men of the National Coal Board said that they’d known from the first.
The coal tips they permitted were a worry and a curse.
But I’ve heard that kind of thing so many times and it always sounds rehearsed.
If the coal tip was a murderer, the Coal Board’s crime was worse.

Chorus

For the children all were pretty, the children all were fine,
But the children went to school in the shadow of the mine.
With the slag heap up above them, they were running out of time,
And they were buried alive by the Ministry of Mines.

How many died in Aberfan
When the coal tip came tumbling down.
How many children will never grow old.
How many lives purchase how many tons of coal?

words & music by Thom Parrott Copyright (c) 1968 by Thom Parrott, BMI

*****

I wrote to Thom Parrott’s organisation in the USA to request permission to reproduce these words. To my surprise I received a warm personal email from Thom Parrott and was struck that, in the true tradition of folk, the piece was written very quickly after the event. He said, “At the time I wrote the song, rescue efforts were still going on and nobody knew how many died.” It made the song even more moving to me.