My visit to Aberfan

It’s a few months since I went to Aberfan to present the Aberfan wives with Now Green is Their Valley. I deliberately didn’t take my Nikon as this was a very personal venture- I did however take my old Canon Sureshot so there are a few pictures to accompany this post.

Monday was getting there day- Google maps advised it was a 5 hour journey- it took me over 8 hours with numerous stops to stretch and ease the joints. I was booked into James Place, a lovely Studio apartment in Merthyr Tydfil . It was such a lovely comfortable place to stay and the bed was divine.

Tuesday I was collected by Denise Morgan and her husband Wyn and was taken to the Cemetery and the Memorial Garden. The Cemetery  rises up the steep sides of the valley and luckily Wyn drove us right to the area- my thoughts went back to all those families who would have walked up there to tend the graves.  Denise and I spent an hour walking all around the area, often in silence, although Denise supplied just the right amount of information. I fully expected to be overwhelmed with emotion but surprisingly although I had a lump in my throat from time to time I held it all together. Maybe because the atmosphere was just so serene and beautiful. Strange to describe so many graves as beautiful, but they really are.

The Memorial Gardens, planted on the footprint of Pantglas Junior  School were equally beautiful and serene.  There is a tree there which looks as if it has been there for ever.  I took just these photographs :

Wednesday was to be the big day – the day I presented the batik to the Wives of Aberfan and I was so looking forward to this evening. Denise had arranged for me to visit the new Junior School to look at a copy of the  Book of Remembrance. This is a beautifully produced book set out in months and the names of each one who perished is included with the most exquisite calligraphy.  It is kept in a glass cabinet in the entrance to the school and the children can see month by month whose birthday it would have been. It was such a privilege to handle this book and slowly read each of the entries, with Denise adding snippets of information as we went through it – I really felt as if Denise knew each of them in so much detail.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in Denise and Wyn’s home watching some programmes which had not been aired in England. The first was when the Aberfan Wives were invited to a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. It was lovely to watch them all dressed up in their finery being treated like royalty and we had a giggle when I was told that one of the ladies said “Tarrah” to Price Charles after their chat.

The next programme followed Denise’s last week as Headteacher prior to her retirement- or should I say Denise Morgan MBE !  Hmm she kept that quiet as I tactfully reminded her!  That Denise would be sorely missed was evident but it wasn’t a sugar coated programme and it touched on the issues facing children in deprived areas which we discussed at length afterwards. After a lovely tea it was time to set off to the Aberfan Wives meeting.

As I looked around the room I was a little star struck- seeing some of the familiar faces who with dignity had told their stories on the ITV production of The Aberfan Wives.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Pat the Post or June as both were unwell. The meeting was opened with a short prayer and a reading and it was over to me.  I had no prepared script and just told the story of my connection and the coincidences which led to me creating the piece of Batik. I should add that I had made an effort and was wearing one of my “posh” jackets- I will get back to that later….

I worked my way around the room so that the ladies could see it close up. One asked me if I had glued the beaded flowers on and when I told her they were stitched on she immediately flipped it over to check out my stitching! Luckily it passed their inspection. Denise was in charge of the camera and here are some from the presentation part of the evening.

That last photo shows Marilyn giving me a Cwtch – it felt very special. We then got down to the serious business of making jewellery and the ladies really got their creative juices flowing and made some beautiful bracelets, in addition to making sure one was made for Pat the Post and June.

Oops back to the posh jacket- after a while I was quite warm so said I would have to take my jacket off, to which Denise retorted “Yes you should, we’ve all seen it now” – we fell about laughing; humour which may be lost on some but very much at the heart of mining communities.

I had a lovely chat with all the ladies as I worked around them and one conversation kind of sums a lot up for me. Joyce, Denise’s mam asked me if I had had a troubled life and I replied by saying  like Denise,  it had driven me to make my mam proud of me.

So how do I sum up my week in Aberfan? Maybe simply by saying I have had some memorable moments in my life and I will cherish this time forever.