Gleision: a reminder of our debt

Gleision: a reminder of our debt

The human tragedy at Gleision colliery in the Swansea Valley last week makes us reflect on what it truly means – the grief and loss for a family, and at the same time the powerful sense of community and fellowship all around them.

Nearly twenty years ago I wrote " …communities are made up of individual human beings whose suffering is very often lonely and isolated. I well recall the late Dick Beamish of Abercrave contrasting the justifiable publicity for a mining disaster of the magnitude of Senghenydd or Aberfan with the loneliness of the death of a pneumoconiotic miner at home surrounded by only his immediate family. The scale of suffering to the human being – man or woman – is as harrowing for one family as it is for a hundred." (1)

Many familes today in the South Wales Valleys, indeed in the whole of Wales, through our collective received memory, feel they know something of their loss and are embracing the four grieving families in the Neath and Swansea valleys.

My great-grandfather, Samuel Francis, started work underground as a seven year old boy in Trebanos. One of his sons, Dafydd, was killed aged twenty-five, in Cwmmawr colliery in 1908, and my father was named after him. I was named after my uncle, aged four, who died when he fell into his uncle’s waiting zinc bath in front of the coal fire.

The names and memories endure, despite the virtual disappearance of our coalfield.

The Rhymney poet Idris Davies had it about right in the mixture of pathos, anger and solidarity he conveyed in his poem Tonypandy:

“… Remind us when we lie on fireside cushions
Of the blood that is burnt within the flame…..
Remind us of the toil of the blistered hands
And the courage and comradeship of men.”(2)

And we should all remind ourselves now of the debt we owe to these four miners and their families, and so many too of those in past generations.

(1) Introduction to John Gurney, Coal: A Sonnet Sequence (1993) p8
(2) Idris Davies, Tonypandy and other Poems (1945) p12

Hywel Francis is the Labour MP for Aberavon, the neighbouring constituency to Neath. He is the founder of the South Wales Miners’ Library and was chair of the Wales Congress in Support of Mining Communities during the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike. Donations may be made at

Dr Hywel Francis, September 2011


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