Lost in lockdown: ‘My brother survived Aberfan – losing him to Covid is almost as traumatic’

Nearly 55 years on from the disaster, their 90-year-old mother, Gwen, who Bernard lived with, became another parent of Aberfan forced to bury a child.

“It is almost up on the same level of trauma,” Andrew says of the impact of the pandemic locally. “It is killing people who are fit and healthy and young. To be honest I don’t think my mother will ever recover from this. Whenever I call her she always says why did it happen to Bernard?”

Another witness to the unimaginable horror of that day in 1966 was Professor Sir Mansel Aylward, the former chairman of Public Health Wales. Back then he was a final year medical student who had grown up near to Aberfan.

He recalls being on the scene after about 20 minutes tending to the injured and treating rescuers who had suffered heart attacks while desperately digging through the rubble.

That evening he called upon the houses of those whose children had died (many of the parents were old school friends of his). The visible trauma he witnessed and later suffered himself from Aberfan, led to him switching medical careers from an aspiring surgeon to public health with a particular focus on mental health.

Last year Sir Mansel, 78, who still lives locally, contracted Covid-19 and was taken to hospital with blood clots on the lung. He recovered from the initial attack of the virus but for months afterwards was dogged by Long Covid symptoms which left him physically exhausted and suffering what he terms a “deep” depression. 

“I had six of the people I was at school with die from Covid,” he says. “That added to the picture of mental depression.”

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