HomeWorldA Welsh village embraces its bond with the queen

A Welsh village embraces its bond with the queen

As Monday counted down to Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, Gaynor Madwick had two thoughts: whether she should watch the ceremony from her home in South Wales or join the crowd in London to pay her respects in person. ?

His mind says wait. Madgwick, 64, fears crowded and confined spaces as an avalanche of ghoul – a mixture of debris from a coal mine and water – fell down the hill above her Aberfan village in 1966. In one of the worst civil disasters in contemporary British history, an avalanche crushed the village school; Killed 144 villagers, 116 of them children; and trapped Madgwick under the rubble, but left alive.

His heart says go. The queen formed an unusually strong relationship with Aberfan, which began in the days after the very disaster and through four visits the queen was made to the village.

“She was Eberfan’s guardian angel,” Madwick said one afternoon last week. “It was a lifelong friendship.”

For many Britons, Elizabeth’s death—the current backdrop of a century of dramatic social change—has felt like a rug stripped from under them, whether they’ve never met or seen her.

The mood in Eberfan, with his rare connection to the Queen, is a sharp example of that sentiment.

To be sure, the Queen’s death and the resulting spectacle, against the rapidly rising costs of living, have been met with relative indifference and even despair by some in Aberfan. As in other parts of Britain, it was a setback that instilled in some a sense of alienation from the monarchy; Disappointment at the Central Government in London; and a gentle reassessment of national identity, including calls for an independent Welsh state in Wales.

But a village of gray roofs and sandstone walls in a narrow Welsh valley – the predominant mood in Aberfan – is one of quiet pitfalls. The four journeys made by the queen to a village of about 3,500 inhabitants are an almost unimaginable number.

In the process, he made many villagers, hundreds of them still suffering from the devastation of 1966, felt blessed and recognized by the supreme man of the country, even as they were betrayed by other arms of the British state. given.

“He looked at us; He protected us; He had sympathy; She was sympathetic,” Madwick said. “The Queen has never let us down.”

The last known photograph of children at Pentglass Junior School, from a collection of mementos of the October 1966 coal slurry avalanche that crushed the school and killed 116 children and 28 adults, in Aberfan, Wales, September 12, 2022. (Mary Turner/The New York Times)

The Queen first arrived in October 1966 in Aberfan, a village built in the 19th century to service the local coal mine. Her journey was later replayed in the television series “The Crown”, inspired by the life of the Queen.

Eight days ago, the garbage from the mine dumped over the years on the top of the hill above the village suddenly fell down after heavy rains. Shortly before 9.15 a.m. on the last day before the half-term break of the school year, and students between the ages of 6 and 11 had just arrived.

Madwick was 8 years old at the time. As her class began math lessons, a wave of debris—about 10 yards high and the volume of about 15 Olympic swimming pools—roared through the school and its surrounding homes, leaving half of the area there that day. Fewer children were killed.

Madgwick survived, breaking his leg from a displaced radiator. Her sister and brother, Marilyn and Carl, both died.

The scale of the disaster made it a moment of national introspection and shock, and the Queen soon decided to visit.

Gaynor Madgwick with a newsletter of his collection of items related to the October 1966 avalanche of ghoul, which killed 116 children and 28 adults on September 12, 2022, in Aberfan, Wales. (Mary Turner/The New York Times)

The biggest regret of her reign was that she did not leave early, a prominent aide later said, and some villagers say the eight-day delay upset the community at the time. But today, residents largely remember their arrival as a moving gesture of solidarity with someone they never looked down on.

Citing eyewitnesses, villagers say that she cried after receiving a bouquet of flowers from the survivors – immortalizing her in rural folklore as a mortal.

“When I close my eyes, I can see her,” said Denise Morgan, 67, who lost a sister in the disaster and was one of the crowd welcoming the Queen.

“She didn’t come as a queen—she came as a mother,” Morgan said. “The loss, and the anguish, was just imprinted on his face.”

This would have been enough for the queen to find a place in the folklore of most villages. But she returned in 1973 to open a community center, to plant a tree at the disaster site in 1997, and to open a new school in 2012.

Over the years, he hosted the wives, mothers, and sisters of the victims at Buckingham Palace, heard singing led by the victims’ male relatives, and paid courtly respects to many of the villagers. This relationship lasted until the day before her death, when the teachers of the new school opened a letter that the courtiers had sent their students on behalf of the queen.

During those decades, the changes in Eberfan’s economy and social fabric were symbolic of sweeping changes in the country at large. The coal mine, once a center of the community and a driver of the local economy, has closed – as well as hundreds of mines across Britain. This prompted many to find work outside the village, often in the service industry, diluting communal life. Many chapels and churches closed amid a widespread decline in religious belief, as did tailor shops and hardware stores in the village.

The pivot of the coal economy “ripped the heart” of the community, said Dai Powell, 61, a former miner and childhood friend of several disaster victims. “We no longer need coal; It’s basically destroying the planet,” Powell said. “But it was livelihood, right?”

There were other costs as well. According to research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, nearly half of the survivors were found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Locals watch the arrival of the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II in London at a pub in Aberfan, Wales, a community the Queen visited four times after a coal slurry avalanche in October 1966 killed 116 children and 28 adults Went, September 13, 2022 (Mary Turner/The New York Times)

Other branches of the British state angered the village by refusing to prosecute any officials of the coal industry for negligence. Subsequent governments also refused to cover the full cost of removing other dangerous ghoul tips near the village, forcing villagers to dip into charity for the survivors until they were fully recovered in 2007. was not reimbursed.

But the queen’s concern for Aberfan meant that she was seen as aloof from the state’s apathy, despite her being its head.

Elsewhere in Britain, people have debated whether the Queen can really move on from politics, given the monarch’s interest in maintaining her role in Britain’s political system. But there was little doubt in Aberfan.

“There’s no political agenda there,” said Jeff Edwards, 64, the last child to be rescued from the rubble. “The Queen is above all.”

In Aberfan, most people expressed sympathy for his family and respect for his sense of duty. But there are others, especially younger generations, who have had a more bisexual reaction to the death of the Queen.

For some, the admission of King Charles III – as well as the sudden appointment of his son William to the former role of Prince of Wales – is more problematic.

“I must be the Prince of Wales; I am more Welsh than Charles or William,” laughed Darren Martin, 47, a gardener in the village. Of the Queen, he said: “Don’t get me wrong; I am the lady. But I think the time has come for Wales to be governed by our own people.”

The sudden death of the Queen was a psychological blow that, in some, has prompted a rethinking of long-standing norms and principles.

“If things can change a lot like this, why can’t things change here?” asked Jordan McCarthy, 21, another gardener in Aberfan. “I would like Welsh independence.”

Of a monarchy, he said: “Only if they were born and raised in Wales – I would accept the only king or queen.”

Generally, however, the mood in Aberfan has been one of calm, mourning and respect. The local library opened a book of condolence. Villagers gathered in pubs to watch the new king’s speeches and processions. Some bouquets were left near the tree planted by the queen.

A men’s choir founded by bereaved relatives half a century ago gathered on Monday night for their biweekly rehearsal. Proud Welshmen, they were preparing for their next performance – singing and singing hymns, some of them in Welsh, to mark the upcoming game of the Welsh rugby team.

But halfway through, choir president Steve Beasley stood up.

“We all know about the Queen,” Beasley said. “Please stand for a minute’s silence.”

(Written by Patrick Kingsley)

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