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I live in Bristol UK literary fiction and crime are my books of choice and when not reading I like to run

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Maggie O'Farrell
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The Last British Dambuster: One man's extraordinary life and the raid that changed history
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Aberfan - Gaynor Madgwick

A recent visit to Big Pit national coal museum in Blaenavon South Wales had such an impact on me that I decided to read Aberfan a story of a community and how it survived one of the worst mining disasters in history. 144 people lost their lives of which 116 were children when tons of coal tip waste slipped down a mountainside destroying and burying everything in its path. Gaynor Madgwick was one of the survivors and as the 50th anniversary for the tragedy approached she decided to put to print not only her thoughts but those of many friends and families torn apart. Gaynor herself lost a brother and sister and so the writing of Aberfan could be viewed as a form of atonement, as painful memories were revisited. Through all the pain and suffering that unfolded in this essential book two facts stood out; The first being the inability of both the government and the National Coal Board (NCP) to accept responsibility for the disaster and the NCP's attempt to use 150,000 pounds from the money donated to the survivors and families to clean up coal tip waste. The second fact more probably an image were young soldiers recruited to help with uncovering bodies from the deluge and waste. They washed the bodies of young children and laid them peacefully side by side for grieving families to identify. The young men who did this never forgot or recovered from such a sad undertaking.


My visit to Big Pit was made more poignant when I realized that those people involved in the tour and introducing us to the tough unforgiving dangerous lives of miners, were none other than ex miners themselves. Due to the fact that coal nowadays is cheaper to import from abroad the last 30+ years has seen the mining industry in the UK virtually disappear and once proud miners left adrift with little hope of future employment. Each one of those ex miners told me that irrespective of the dangers and the poor and sometimes brutal working conditions, they would all happily return underground to their old way of life. I was astounded to hear this...why I asked? why work in such dangerous unforgiving conditions? The comradeship they said, they were a band of brothers and would happily live and die for each other. I came away extremely humbled knowing that those in government who choose to destroy the mines and therefore the livelihoods of these proud men did not realize that by doing so they destroyed communities and the heart of the noble Welsh men, women and children that lived therein. Aberfan is a tough read but it is a story that should be understood and the memories of those who lost their lives and the families that still grieve should never be forgotten.