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Aberfan disaster is remember by press men who were there

As the 40th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster approaches, some of the journalists and photographers who covered the event have been recalling the terrible day of October 21, 1966.

A massive coal slagheap slid onto the small mining village near Merthyr Tydfil, burying Pantglas Junior School in the valley below and killing 116 children and 28 adults.

Among those sent out to the scene of the disaster was photographer Irwyn Morgan, who was then working for The Herald of Wales, who said the event was the biggest story he covered in his career.

Now 80, he said: “I had never seen anything like it. I have seen other landslides, but nothing like this.

“It was a devastating scene. Everyone was running all over the place, they didn’t know what to do.

“I thought about all those children in the school. My son, Alun, was only eight years old at the time, and it struck me that it could have been him.

“You were not particularly welcome there and nobody had time to speak to you, so I just got whatever photos I could.

“I remember crawling up the heap to take pictures.

“I just happened to see a couple standing there whose child had been in the school at the time.

“It was a miner and his wife. I didn’t talk to them, so I don’t know if their child survived.

“At the time I took the picture they wouldn’t have known whether their child was dead or alive.”

  • Irwyn
  • Also there was former South Wales Evening Post chief photographer Alan Trethewy, who had to maintain his composure despite being faced with such a gut-wrenching scene.

    He said: “The camera acts like a barrier between yourself and the reality of what is going on around you.

    “At the end of the day you have a job to do, and you have to get on with it. But, of course, you had to be sensitive about it.

    “I do remember I was on duty in the evening as well that day and I had to cover a dinner at the Langland Bay Hotel.

    “It just seemed a complete contrast — almost surreal — going from something like Aberfan to this event where people were enjoying themselves.

    “The tragedy is something I will never forget — I remember it like it was yesterday.

    “It is just burned into my memory. It was the most horrific thing I covered throughout my whole career.”

  • Alan
  • Former Evening Post reporter Malcolm Rees was the first journalist from the paper on the scene, and has also described the incident as the worst he ever had to cover.

    He said: “I coped with it by just getting on with my job. I did not have time to think about it too much.

    “It was a very busy day and I did not get back home until late in the evening.

    “It was harrowing talking to parents there. At that stage they did not know whether their children had survived.

    “Although there was so much going on, I also remember there was a strange stillness about the place. It was quite eerie at times and that feeling went on all day.”

  • Click to read more memories from Irwyn, Alan and Malcolm, which first appeared in the South Wales Evening Post.