Child­hood

TV Times - - Real Life - Sur­viv­ing Aber­fan thurs­day / BBC4 / 9.00Pm Ian Macewan

Fifty years on, sur­vivor Jeff Ed­wards shares his night­mare mem­o­ries of the Aber­fan dis­as­ter which claimed 144 lives and shocked the world...

doc­u­men­tary eff Ed­wards can clearly re­call the mo­ment at which his child­hood came to an abrupt and shock­ing end. It was on the morn­ing of Fri­day 21 Oc­to­ber 1966, and eight-yearold Jeff was in class at Pant­glas Ju­nior School in the Welsh vil­lage of Aber­fan, near Merthyr Tyd­fil.

On that fate­ful day, 1.5mil­lion cu­bic tons of slurry from the col­liery waste tip that cast a gi­ant shadow above the vil­lage slid down the hill­side and en­gulfed the school, a farm and 20 ter­raced houses.

One hun­dred and forty-four peo­ple were killed, 116 of them chil­dren.

‘It hap­pened at 9.15am,’ says Jeff, 58, one of the sur­vivors fea­tured in this week’s mov­ing BBC4 doc­u­men­tary Sur­viv­ing Aber­fan, made to mark this year’s 50th an­niver­sary of the tragedy.

‘There was a rum­bling noise that our teacher said was thun­der. The next thing I re­mem­ber is wak­ing up

Jcov­ered in all this de­bris that had fallen down from the ceil­ing. There was lots of scream­ing and shout­ing.’

Jeff was the last child pulled alive from the wreck­age. From his class of 34 chil­dren, 30 per­ished. ‘The only rea­son I sur­vived while oth­ers didn’t was that I had a pocket of air to breathe,’ he ex­plains. ‘There was a girl right next to me who didn’t sur­vive

– her head was on my shoul­der.

‘For years I had nightmares about that. I couldn’t get away be­cause I was pinned down.’

What had started out as just an­other school day had turned into a tragedy that would trau­ma­tise the com­mu­nity for years to come.

‘We were look­ing for­ward to the Oc­to­ber half-term, do­ing what nor­mal kids do,’ Jeff re­calls. ‘Af­ter 9.15am on that day we had to grow up very quickly. One minute we were happy-go-lucky kids, the next I had death on my shoul­der. Our child­hood ended on that day.

‘We could no longer play in the streets be­cause it was frowned on by peo­ple who had lost chil­dren,’ he adds. ‘Even our own par­ents didn’t want us to play on the streets be­cause they be­came very pro­tec­tive to­wards us. And all my friends had dis­ap­peared, so there was no­body to play with any­way.’

While the head in­juries that Jeff sus­tained healed, the psy­cho­log­i­cal scars stayed with him.

‘It was dif­fi­cult to go back to school be­cause of the fear the tip would come down again,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t con­cen­trate, lacked in­ter­est, and got up­set very eas­ily. I couldn’t go back to school for a long time. I missed out on those for­ma­tive years.’

One pos­i­tive out­come of the tragedy for Jeff was that, as an adult, it in­spired him to get in­volved in lo­cal pol­i­tics – he’s been mayor of Aber­fan and was awarded the MBE – help­ing his com­mu­nity.

On the site of the old school is a me­mo­rial gar­den ded­i­cated to those who lost their lives.

‘I like go­ing there,’ he says. ‘It’s tran­quil and beau­ti­ful with the flow­ers and trees they’ve planted.

But I never go to the ceme­tery. It’s too emo­tional for me. When

I go past the graves, I don’t see the names, I see the peo­ple.’

new

is previewed on page 80, See also Tues­day BBC1,

10.45pm (SCOT, 11.45pm)

the af­ter­math of the deadly waste tip slide Jeff Ed­wards (inset as a child) re­calls the day dis­as­ter struck Aber­fan

There was a girl right next to me who didn’t sur­vive – her head was on

my shoul­der

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