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Aberfan - A Story of Survival, Love and Community in One of Britain's Worst Disasters


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This year will be the fiftieth anniversary of the Aberfan disaster. There are some events that are etched so deeply in ones memory, and as long as you live you will always remember when and where you first heard of them. One of the many poignant photographs reproduced in this book shows the school clock stopping just short of 9.15 am. I was also in school that day, and I distinctly remember our geography master telling us, just before we commenced our 10.00 am class, that there had been a tragic incident at a school in south Wales, and it was feared that many children may have died. We had to wait until the evening news to learn the full extent of the disaster that took place at Aberfan on that Friday morning on 21 October 1966. Its impact was immediate, as it was one of the first televised disasters. Eight-year-old Gaynor Madgwick (ne Minnett) was also in school that morning, and this is her remarkable story. She was severely injured, but survived, while her brother Carl and sister Marilyn, in adjacent classrooms, perished. After nearly 50 years, Madgwick has traced a number of people who were involved in varying ways with the events of 1966, and in so doing she has managed to show how this tragedy continues to impact on the lives of so many. This was a disaster that was different to many others in that it involved so many children, and it was also entirely focused on one small community, rather than on a large and random group of people brought together, such as those who are killed by accident or terrorism in an aeroplane. It was also a tragedy which could have been avoided. Among the people Madgwick revisits are a nurse who helped her recover at St. Illtyds Hospital in Merthyr, even though she had lost her own daughter at Aberfan. She also met up with a young soldier, James Bullock, whose regiment, based in Devon, was sent to Aberfan to assist with the rescue, and academic Professor Iain McLean, who did so much to assist the residents of Aberfan to overcome the injustices they had suffered at the hands of several governments and the National Coal Board. Lord Snowdon, who visited Aberfan after the disaster and met Madgwick in hospital, is also interviewed in a touching chapter, as is Ron Davies, the former Secretary of State for Wales, who is credited with repaying 150,000 in 1997 to the Aberfan Disaster Fund which had been callously taken to help clear the cost of removing the tips. The medical impact of the disaster is discussed by the local GP, Dr Ramsewak Prasad, who worked alongside his senior colleague, Dr Arthur Jones, who had served the community so well for 48 years. Both of them had to cope with the psychological impact of such an horrendous event on their patients, largely before post-traumatic stress disorder was identified as a medical condition. The spiritual angle is also examined in interviews with June Vaughan, a local preacher, and Irving Penberthy, a Sunday School teacher. Madgwick does not dwell too much on the politics of Aberfan, and this is left largely to an incisive introduction by the veteran broadcaster, Vincent Kane, who leaves us in no doubt where the responsibility lay for the disaster. Thankfully Madgwick has now found happiness after a troubled life, having had to live with the guilt of the survivor for all her life. And writing so sensitively has helped her to come to terms with what happened in 1966. This is certainly not an easy book to read, but as noted by Lord Snowdon, it should and must be read by all of us in memory of those who died, whilst not forgetting those who also survived this tragic event. Richard E. Huws It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council. Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar, trwy ganiatd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru. -- Welsh Books Council

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