Attila the Stockbroker poem on Welsh Aberfan children killed by coal waste

This video from Britain says about itself:

5 October 2016

Aberfan – The Untold Story; documentary.

1966: a terrible tragedy strikes at the Welsh mining village of Aberfan. A mountain of coal slurry engulfes a school, claiming the lives of 116 children and 28 adults.

In one morning, a whole generation wiped out.

Images of Aberfan’s terrible plight were broadcast around the world; it became the world’s first televised disaster and one of the defining moments of the Sixties.

At first the Labour Government of the time had seemed anxious to help, but their promises seemed to evaporate. And although the disaster had been predicable, heads didn’t roll.

Abandoned by government, the loss of a whole generation of children awoke in this small mining community a sense of its own power.

Driven by grief, anger and guilt, the village fought for justice. They took on the might of an uncaring government and won.

This is the untold story of Aberfan.

From British Poet Attila the Stockbroker, Friday 21st October 2016:


October 21st, 1966. A day I will never forget.

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn
I was a proper little show-off.
‘Too clever by half’
said my Victorian grandmother
who lived in the flat downstairs.
‘You spoil him, Muriel.
Children should be seen
and not heard.
Be quiet, John!
When you begin to PAY a little
Then you can begin to SAY a little.’
There were plenty more such epithets.
If I asked what was for tea
on the days she was in charge of me
she’d always say
‘Air pie and a walk round’
or ‘Bread and pullet’
and when she read about the latest exploits of the royal family
or anyone else remotely wealthy or privileged
in the pages of her beloved Daily Express
she’d often exclaim with heartfelt approval
It’s not for the likes of us!’
(When, years later, I read
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
by Robert Tressell
and heard that particular servile catchphrase again
I felt retrospectively vindicated
in my instinctive determination back then
to do the exact opposite
of nearly everything she told me.)

Despite my grandmother’s best efforts
I was seen, heard
and then some –
in school and out.
Self-assured and confident.
Playing the violin and recorder.
Writing little poems and songs
and about to begin a massive project
about the American Civil War
based on the battle stories printed on the back
of the unbelievably gory bubblegum picture cards
we boys bought on our way to school.
Cards with titles like ‘Crushed By The Wheels’
‘Wall of Corpses’
and ‘Messenger of Death.’
(Two old pence for two cards
a fake Confederate dollar bill
and a piece of gum.
If you’re male and over 50, you’ll probably remember.
After endless swapsies and games of flickers
I eventually got the whole set.
That’s when I started the project.)
My form teacher liked me
and let me help other kids in class.
I had lots of friends
and if wannabe bullies hit me
I hit them back.
Like I say, a proper little show-off.

It was my ninth birthday.
At Manor Hall Junior School
when it was your birthday
you couldn’t wait till lunchtime –
but you had to.
Then you stood in front of everyone else
in the canteen
a big, colourful plastic cake was brought out
with proper candles on it
you blew out the candles
everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday’
(even the kids who thought you were a show-off wanker:
the teachers made sure of that)
and you got the chance to grab a handful of sweets
from a big jar.
As far as I can remember
I was the only one
with a birthday that day
so I had everyone’s undivided attention.
I was really looking forward to it.
But I never got to show off
and I didn’t want to show off.
My ninth birthday was different.
It was October 21st, 1966.

Before we went to the canteen for lunch
and my little birthday cameo
we were told there was going to be a special assembly
in the school hall.
Everyone wondered what had happened:
even I realised they wouldn’t have one
just because it was my birthday.
The headmaster, Mr. Young,
came in looking very sad
and told us that earlier that day
a huge mountain of coal waste
had engulfed a junior school like ours
in a Welsh mining village called Aberfan
and many children the same age as us
had lost their lives.
He asked us to pray for them.
We all did.
Some of us cried.
They still sang ‘Happy Birthday’
in the canteen
a few minutes later
but it wasn’t a happy birthday at all.
I kept thinking about those children.
After I’d got home
and talked to my parents
and had my birthday tea with my friends
I tried to write a poem for Aberfan –
but I couldn’t.
The poem I wanted to write
was far too big for a nine year old.
We did a collection at school
the money was sent to the disaster fund
and then
as happens when you’re a child
with loving parents
at a supportive school
other things quickly came along
to take the sadness away.
But on my birthday
for the next few years
I always thought
about the children of Aberfan.

Years later, I learned
about the underground springs
below Colliery Waste Tip No 7
on the hill above the village
which caused the coal waste to turn to slurry
and crash down on the school –
springs easily spotted on maps
which were never even consulted.
I learned about the negligence
of the authorities
and the insensitivity of the press.
Some things never change.
I learned about the father who –
as the inquest into his child’s death
declared the cause to be ‘asphyxia and multiple injuries’ –
shouted out
‘No, sir. Buried alive by the National Coal Board.’
I learned how a ruling was made
that parents had somehow to prove
their childrens’ deaths had caused them anguish
before they could benefit
from the disaster fund –
and that some of the money
from that fund
was used to clear the other waste tips
above Aberfan
because the Coal Board
refused to pay for it to be done.
I learned about the long-term psychological effects
of the disaster
on the whole village.
In short
I learned how the lives of working class people were held cheap.
So cheap.

But that was much later.
Back then
I was a child.
A proper little show-off
who didn’t want to show off
on his ninth birthday
trying to write a poem
for children like him –
for the children
of Aberfan.


7 thoughts on “Attila the Stockbroker poem on Welsh Aberfan children killed by coal waste

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