Cofiowych Aberfan / General

Not Just An Ordinary Dinner Lady

I started writing this, or rather trying to, on the 56th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster. But for a Welshman and grandson of a miner, it was all just too raw. On occasions through the year I have tried to finish this post but the whole topic is just too big for one post. So this year, on the 57th anniversary I’ll tell you Nansi Williams’ story. I will publish more episodes on the anniversary of the disaster over the next few years.

At 9:13 on the 21st of October 1966 144 people, including 116 children, died when one of the spoil tips from the Merthyr Vale coal mine slid down the mountain into the village of Aberfan below. Pantglas Junior School was directly in the path and was effectively wiped out in just a few seconds.

It had been raining heavily for the previous three weeks. In the South Wales valleys the average rainfall is 1.5 metres a year. That’s a lot of rain. At around 7:30 that morning the gang who ran the operation of the spoil heaps made their usual inspection before starting work. Tip 7 was the active one and had been in use for eight years. At the very top of the heap a large depression had formed overnight and the rails that carried the tipping crane and drams of spoil had broken. Some rails were lying in the bottom of this pit. None of the crew had seen that happen before. They decided to return to the mine, report what they had seen, plan how to effect repairs and to collect tools and new rails. One man, Mr Gwyn Brown, who operated the crane, puzzled by what may have caused the slump stayed behind. He could think of no reason why several tons of material should just disappear overnight. As he watched the bottom of the pit seemed to rise up on one side. For a brief instant he thought it was an illusion. But it was all too real. He knew then that it had suddenly become a very dangerous situation. The front of the lower part of the tip nearest the village started to move slowly down hill. Almost immediately the edge of the new hole, and the material in the bottom of it also started to slip down. In the blink of an eye half of the tip was accelerating down the side of the mountain.

Towards Aberfan.

Directly towards the school.

This is Nansi Williams, she was in her early forties on the fateful day. She was married and lived near the school. The couple had no children. Nansi was a dinner lady at Pantglas Junior School. On that fateful morning she was collecting dinner money from five children in the corridor to the main hall at the school.

She heard what many of the survivors have since described as being like a jet aeroplane crashing into the building. As she looked in that direction she saw a wall of black coal slurry, rocks, bricks ,bits of window frame and broken glass rushing along the corridor towards her little group smashing everything in its path. She pulled all of the children to her and lay down over them for their protection.

It worked.

All five were rescued alive.

But not Nansi.

She had been killed instantly.

One of those five little children was little Karen Thomas. She recalled that they were all screaming and shouting to trying to ‘wake Mrs Thomas up’ because she was not moving or talking to them. Karen was pulling her hair because that was all she could do. But of course Nansi could not respond. After a while the children saw some light above them as rescuers cleared the rubble away. they called down to reassure the children that they were coming. They were soon out of their prison and on their way back to their families. When Nansi’s body was recovered she was still holding the children’s dinner monies.

Karen still puts fresh flowers on Mrs Williams’s grave on the anniversary of the tradedy.

Nansi Williams Photo courtesy of Dai Powell

Future installments will include:-

More of the stories both teachers and children, and PC Yvonne Price

The NCB and the inquest

The Welsh office & the Government

Stealing the donations

The lagacy & H&S act



Peter Trehearn
October 21, 2023 at 12:39

Thankyou for revealing this and future stories

    October 21, 2023 at 14:19

    I can not imagine spending days digging out your neighbours’ and your own children from that nightmare and then going back to work down the pit. That’s heroic in itself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.