Remembering Aberfan – the 50th Anniversary Conference at JOMEC

On Thursday September 8th 2016, Cardiff University’s School of Journalism (JOMEC), Media and Cultural Studies held a one day conference  focussing on the themes of remembering the Aberfan disaster of October 21st 1966 – as well as forgetting and moving on in the media and in the community. Cardiff and South East Wales NUJ branch helped with financial support for the conference which meant that attendance was free. Branch member James Stewart, a lecturer at the school, was one of the two key organisers of the conference.

Dr John Jewell, Director of Undergraduate Studies at JOMEC has published his review of the what visitors heard on the day and has given the NUJ permission to publish it – here is a link to Dr Jewell’s own blog where it can be read in full – but I have placed an extract below.

“October 21st 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster. At 9.15 am on that day in 1966, just as Pantglas junior school was beginning its first lesson, a coal tip situated above this small village near the South Wales industrial town of Merthyr Tydfil slid down the mountain enveloping first a farm and then Pantglas school itself.  Though some did manage to escape, it was a catastrophe that claimed the lives of a 144 people, 116 of whom were children. Though Wales is historically no stranger to mining disasters – between the years of 1853 and 1974 24,470 colliery workers were killed at work in South Wales – the Aberfan disaster, because of the loss of so many young lives and the impact that has had on the community since, is the single most shocking event in modern Welsh history.

“(The conference) brought together not only survivors of the tragedy but also media practitioners and academics including photojournalist I. C. Rapoport , whose presentation was of a breathtaking poignancy which moved all to tears,  and the elder statesman of the Welsh media, Vincent Kane, who reported from Aberfan in 1966.

“Kane’s closing keynote speech was beautifully passionate, poetic, angry and robust. He was devastating in his condemnation of both the National Coal Board and the Union of Mineworkers. They had known about the tip being built on a sloping hillside, upon two underground springs which were clearly shown on ordinance survey maps. They were guilty of moral cowardice – failing to act on the knowledge that the tip could slide at any given moment. But those who knew of the potential for tragedy failed to act to remove the tip because they knew that attempting to do so would put the existence of mining in Merthyr in peril.”

In due course I hope to obtain and publish with permission some photographs taken on the day and links to further commemorating events.


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