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World Affairs 101: Lessons To Be Learned, The Aberfan Disaster

The Crown Aberfan Queen Royalty TV

With Netflix as our main source of entertainment these days, one of the favourite series among others has been The Crown which portrays the life of Queen Elizabeth II from her wedding in the 1940s until the 1990s and some key moments in history including the Aberfan disaster. Image Source: Scala Radio

Although one accepts that considering it is TV series, some of the events that have happened would have been heavily dramatized. It however does shows the tension and stress that the royalties, namely Prince Phillip and Prince Charles in light of the standing of the Queen.

Read these first:-

The Crown & Likeable Characters

The storyline of The Crown is based on actual events but dramatization stretched a bit of course and it helps for one to run through the history from the 1940s to the 1990s. Aside from the main characters in this TV series, you are also presented with a number of characters that have advised and shaped the monarchy over the years. I personally found that these characters to be well-played and likeable:-

Tommy Lascelles played excellently by Pip Torrens.

Although initially, Sir Alan Frederick “Tommy” Lascelles, who was the Private Secretary to both King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II seemed stone-cold, rude and arrogant, I found that he is precision in mind &action and always put the office of the Monarch at the top of everything. He is indeed the best advisor to the monarch.

Harold Wilson played true to nature by Jason Watkins.

James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1964 to 1970 and 1974 to 1976. The portray of him in Season 3 especially in Episode 3 titled “Aberfan” showed just how sensitive he was personally to the pulse of the nation in light of this tragedy.

aberfan disaster 1960s children

Probably one of the worst tragedies involving innocent children. Image source: History Channel

Season 3 Episode 3 titled “Aberfan” would probably be the most emotional and touching episode of the whole TV series considering the number of deaths of small innocent children.

The Aberfan Disaster

The Aberfan disaster was the catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip on 21 October 1966. The tip had been created on a mountain slope above the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, and overlaid a natural spring.

A period of heavy rain led to a build-up of water within the tip which caused it to suddenly slide downhill as a slurry, killing 116 children and 28 adults as it engulfed Pantglas Junior School and other buildings.

The tip was the responsibility of the National Coal Board (NCB), and the subsequent inquiry placed the blame for the disaster on the organisation and nine named employees.

There were seven spoil tips on the slopes above Aberfan; Tip 7—the one that slipped onto the village—was begun in 1958 and, at the time of the disaster, was 111 feet (34 m) high. In contravention of the NCB’s official procedures, the tip was partly based on ground from which water springs emerged.

After three weeks of heavy rain the tip was saturated and approximately 140,000 cubic yards (110,000 m3) of spoil slipped down the side of the hill and onto the Pantglas area of the village. The main building hit was the local junior school, where lessons had just begun; 5 teachers and 109 children were killed in the school.

An official inquiry was chaired by Lord Justice Edmund Davies. The report placed the blame squarely on the NCB. The organisation’s chairman, Lord Robens, was criticised for making misleading statements and for not providing clarity as to the NCB’s knowledge of the presence of water springs on the hillside. Neither the NCB nor any of its employees were prosecuted and the organisation was not fined.

The Aberfan Disaster Memorial Fund (ADMF) was set up on the day of the disaster. It received nearly 88,000 contributions, totalling £1.75 million.

The remaining tips were removed only after a lengthy fight by Aberfan residents, against resistance from the NCB and the government on the grounds of cost. Clearing was paid for by a government grant and a forced contribution of £150,000 taken from the memorial fund.

In 1997 the British government paid back the £150,000 to the ADMF, and in 2007 the Welsh Government donated £1.5 million to the fund and £500,000 to the Aberfan Education Charity as recompense for the money wrongly taken.

Many of the village’s residents suffered medical problems, and half the survivors have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder at some time in their lives.


aberfan disaster

Imagine your child is burned under the landslides of hot coal and you digging using your bare hands. Image source: History Channel

Lessons Learned from Disaster

The tragedy happened in the 1960s but the shortcomings and the lack of care & proactive actions is something that seems to be keep repeated in other tragedies all around the world. Some of the lessons learned from this tragedy as seen from The Crown are as follows:-

Lesson 1

Someone will need to take responsibility and thereafter take relevant recovery action. In this tragedy, Lord Robens who is the NCB chairman not only absent from the scene of tragedy but also refused to take responsibility for the tragedy, claiming it is an act of God. Further, this is after it was made known that the possibility of tragedy happening been highlighted long before the tragedy actually happened.

Lesson 2

You can always comfort people in the wake of tragedies even though the tragedy has happened and taken the lives of many. Many criticised the Queen for being absent for 8 long days – a point that she acknowledged that her not visiting Aberfan immediately after the disaster was “her biggest regret”.

Lesson 3

Risks is an on-going matter especially when there are similar incidents in the past – as far as the 1940s and yet nothing was done:-

A large failure of Tip 4 in 1944 was not even a reportable incident because nobody from the colliery was injured – so many who should have heard about this or other similar events never did. The professionals in charge were inappropriately qualified and lacked appropriate experience and direction.

Concerns were raised that this represented a disaster waiting to happen but clear warnings went unheeded and no action was taken to address the situation. Until it was too late.

Tip 7 covered material which had previously slipped in 1944 – the very same watercourse that had caused earlier failures. Its catastrophic failure on 21 October 1966 was the result of a build-up of water in the tip.


It is also mentioned in other findings that one should not allow politicians to run Government-linked companies (in this case the National Coal Board) as they will not take responsibilities and will think like politicians when trouble hits the roof.

In this publication, it was mentioned that Robens was a politician at his fingertips. Except when cornered by cross-examination at the Tribunal, he did what politicians do: he spun his way out of trouble.

This was not surprising that despite the Tribunal finding that the blame falls squarely on the NCB, the NCB as an organisation was not prosecuted and no NCB staff were demoted, sacked or prosecuted as a consequence of the Aberfan disaster or for evidence given to the inquiry.

aberfan disaster

We have been telling about this potential disaster for years and yet no one listened – this is one of the common complaints after a disaster had happened. Image source: History Channel

Final Say

In Malaysia, which Government-linked companies is not run by politicians? What are the chances that these politicians will take end responsibility if there is a tragedy and caused considerable property damage and life? Can you recall any fine examples in the past?

The tragic of the Aberfan Tragedy is not the high number of children who had died from a man-made accident but instead the fact that the danger was made known years before this tragic incident actually happened and no one in the power took any action. 116 innocent children and 28 adults would have been alive today had the relevant authorities had identified the risk and taken immediate actions.

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