The 1960’s were only yesterday…

It’s an strage irony that many of the things that I’m learning in my Welsh History course happened during my lifetime. I recall the trauma of going into the Science Museum several years ago and seeing a punched-card sorting machine that I used daily during my time working in payrolls with British Rail in 1966-67. That was probably the first time I realised I was growing older.

Summer of love
Summer of love

This week we’ve talked about three things that happened during my favourite period in history – the 1960s. I entered the decade a pre-teen (just) and left it a new adult at 21 – ironically, in the year the UK reduced the voting age to 18. It was the decade of the Civil Rights Movement, the Swinging 60’s, folk-rock, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Mersey sound, the Summer of Love, Woodstock, the death of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the first man on the moon, social revolutions, rise of feminism, anti Vietnam war protests, Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson, plus, of course, England winning the World Cup.

In one lecture, we talked about the student riots in France of May 1968 led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit. I was detained by French police in Calais that month for three hours for some reason I never quite understood. The only thing I had in common with Cohn-Bendit was fiery red hair!

'Cofiwch Dreweryn' ('Remember Treweryn') Graffiti on A487 near Aberystwyth
\’Cofiwch Dreweryn\’ (\’Remember Treweryn\’) Graffiti on A487 near Aberystwyth

In Birth of Modern Wales we discussed Treweryn – the disastrous decision to flood a Welsh valley to provide water supplies for Liverpool, the real need for which was unproven. Bessie Bradock (a famous portly outspoken Liverpool MP) bulldozed this through and Liverpool Council arrogantly refused to meet a delegation of Welsh local people. Still today “Cofiwch Dreweryn” (“Remember Treweryn”) arouses passions. As a young teenager I remember watching tv images of men women and children marching to protest about the theft of Welsh water and the destruction of a beautiful valley.

The Aberfan slag heap collapsed on the school
The Aberfan slag heap collapsed on the school

Of course, 1966 saw the neglect and arrogance of the National Coal Board result in the death of 116 children and 28 adults at Aberfan. Despite the warnings of the instability of the slag heap, nothing was done and 144 people died. I recall crying as I saw the grainy black and white images on my tv at home. I visited Aberfan subsequently and published a tribute online. Do have a look at www.hiraeth.org.uk/aberfan I was encouraged when several of my student friends were knowledgeable about events that occurred before they were born.

Dinorwig quarry
Dinorwig quarry

Finally, I was discussing with a PhD student the effects of the closure of the Dinorwig Quarry in 1969 on the community of Deiniolen where I live. It’s a shadow of what it was, a large number of unemployed people, few facilities for kids, and over 20 shops and restaurants have closed leaving a single shop and a dispirited community with no heart or focus except the thriving primary school.

The common thread in all these rather depressing incidents is the arrogance, insensitivity and poor response of officialdom in situations in which they did evrything wrongly. Unlike many people, I become more left-wing every passing day!

So the 1960s weren’t as wonderful as I remember them. But I’m glad I lived through them and can say, ‘I was there!’

The loss of a generation – Aberfan

A policeman carries a survivorTV news has provided us all with defining, emotional moments in our lives. I recall five occasions I cried over a news item: the Jonestown massacre in Guyana in 1978 when 918 people died; the Bhopal disaster of 1984 where the initial death toll of 2,259 has risen to 15,000 today; the murders at a primary school in Dunblane in 1996 where a madman killed 16 children and a teacher; the 9/11 events of 2001 where 2,974 died.

None, however, affected me as much as the events of 21 October 1966 when the news was of a colliery waste tip which collapsed on the Pantglas School in the South Wales mining village of Aberfan, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

Somehow, I can identify more with Aberfan than all those other tragedies, because I knew Aberfan well as my family are from Cilfynydd only six miles away, several still there today. Many of those relatives worked at the Albion Colliery, the next colliery to the Merthyr Colliery which had produced the slag heap that moved and wiped out so many lives.

Earlier this year, as part of my Bangor University course I had an assignment to produce a website using the techniques we had learned. I decided to produce a website to tell a new generation about the loss of a generation of young children in Aberfan. Had I realised how emotionally draining it would prove to be I probably would never have started the project but now I’m so glad I saw it through. I discovered that nowhere on the web is there a list of those who died so I made it a project to research local newspapers and I have listed all the names of the children but not all the adults yet. As I transcribed the witness accounts in their own words of parents, survivors, rescuers, miners, police and ministers, I kept having to stop because of tears.

You can see the results of all the work on my website www.hiraeth.org.uk/aberfan and I’d love you leave your comments on this blog. Over the summer I’ll be adding to the other headings you can see on the Hiraeth site and I’d be pleased to have any contributions on things Welsh, particularly under the headings I’m using: Industrial history, Llanberis area, Walking, Castles, Dramatic events, Culture & language, Religious heritage, Snowdonia and Where to stay. This blog will form part of the site later. In my heart-of-hearts, I don’t really believe it’s going to be a ‘barbecue summer’ so my August will be writing a lot of web pages!