Personal account of the true extent of Aberfan disaster unveiled at Swansea University
A personal file from the late John Beale, former Director of Education for the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil, has revealed just how much the Aberfan disaster affected the local community in the months that followed.
The file, which was recently donated by Mr Beale’s family to the Archive Department of Swansea University’s Library and Information Services, gives a personal insight into the role the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil’s Education Department played in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
His son Andrew commented, “Whereas we were aware that he was deeply effected by the Aberfan tragedy we never really appreciated the full extent of his involvement until reading the contents of this file after his death. The file offers a unique insight on the tragedy from the perspective of a young professional (he was only aged 36 at the time) grappling with its immediate aftermath under the glare of world attention. It was as much a revelation to us as it will be for the next reader and it is for this reason that the family decided to make it available to researchers of the period.”
Specifically, the documents provide insight into three issues faced by the Department:
- The rehabilitation and return to education of the surviving children
- The rehabilitation of the surviving teachers, and
- The provision of suitable temporary and permanent school accommodation.
The file also highlights how these issues were dealt with.
Elisabeth Bennett, Swansea University’s Archivist, said: “This is a fascinating and very personal insight into a truly devastating event. For example, Mr Beale is quoted as saying ‘Our tasks amongst the teachers were very real when one appreciates the compactness and community spirit that prevail in a Welsh Valley Community. When one suffers we all suffer… The teaching community had to be lifted from a position of despair because upon its own recovery depended to a very large extent the success of the rehabilitation of the children entrusted to its care. The teachers did not fail.’
“We are very privileged to accept and safeguard this file, which will be a very welcome addition to other material relating to the Aberfan Disaster already held in the South Wales Coalfield Collection at the University.”
Swansea AM and Minister for Finance and Public Service Delivery, Andrew Davies, said: “Every country has its defining moment – and the Aberfan disaster has imprinted itself on the collective memory of the people of Wales.
"I am grateful that John Beale has once more added to his long and distinguished record of public service – which includes the record of being the first Director from a Welsh local authority to hold office as President of the Society of Education Officers for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
"After his time in Merthyr Tydfil, he returned to his native city of Swansea to take up the challenging post of Director of Education in West Glamorgan, where he oversaw wider access to Nursery Education, pioneered the introduction of Tertiary Education in Wales and promoted student engagement with the Arts, notably Music and Drama. His legacy stands to this day with the continuing existence of bodies such as the West Glamorgan Youth Theatre.
"I know his contribution to Welsh education and the wider community will be long remembered."
To see personal photographs and listen to audio items relating to the Aberfan disaster, please visit the University's South Wales Coalfield website: http://www.agor.org.uk/cwm/
For further information about the Collection please contact Swansea University Archives, Tel: 01792 295021 or email firstname.lastname@example.org