23/10/2016 Songs of Praise


23/10/2016

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, Aled Jones hears from two people speaking for the first time about the day that changed their lives and shocked the world.


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Transcript


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50 years ago, on October 21st, 1966,

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the eyes of the world turned to a tiny coal-mining village

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in South Wales.

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Disaster struck suddenly this morning

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at the small Welsh coal-mining village of Aberfan,

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near Merthyr Tydfil.

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Triggered by heavy rain,

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a fast-moving landslide of colliery waste engulfed a farm,

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a row of terraced houses,

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and classrooms here

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where Pantglas Junior School stood.

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It was the last day before half-term holidays.

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144 people died in the disaster. 116 of them were children.

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Never in my life have I ever seen anything like this.

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I hope that I shall never ever see anything like it again.

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'We hear from two people speaking for the first time

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'about the day that changed their lives.

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Confusion. Unbelievable.

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Everybody was standing around bewildered.

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And I joined them.

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# This is love, that Christ has died... #

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'And we've music and song from across Wales,

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'including the Aberfan Hymn,

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performed by the Treorchy Male Voice Choir.

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The mining villages of the Welsh valleys

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are close-knit communities,

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and that's been their strength through many tough times.

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But October 21st, 1966

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was a tragedy like no other.

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One of the church ministers of Aberfan,

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who lost his son that day,

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later spoke of his own enduring faith in God.

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"I am certain", he said,

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"that nothing can separate us from His love."

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And it is with this in mind that we begin today's programme

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with a hymn, Love Divine,

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set to sublime Welsh melody.

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Half a century ago, on the day of the Aberfan disaster,

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television cameras captured a community in shock.

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One of those interviewed just hours after the tragedy

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was Irving Penberthy.

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He was a minister here at the Zion Methodist Church.

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'What can a man in your position, a man of God,

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do in the face of a disaster like this?

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Well, I admit that I'm bewildered.

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I haven't taken it all in yet.

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All I can say is that I will be able to give comfort later on,

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because there is a storm of sorrow

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that is going to break on this village.

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A very close, friendly village, was Aberfan,

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and, when I went there, I felt at home right away.

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It had been raining all that week.

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Heavy rain.

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I remember setting out that morning.

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On the way, several emergency vehicles passed me.

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I didn't take much notice,

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because there were often accidents at the mines.

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And then...a thought came to me.

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"You must turn back. You must turn back."

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Looking back, as far as I'm concerned,

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it was the voice of God.

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Confusion.

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Unbelievable.

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There was scores of people like ants swarming around.

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Everyone had turned out to dig at this slurry,

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and I felt that I must stay with the people, as a minister,

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to talk with them,

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pray with them, and hold their hand.

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That's what I did.

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I think there is an air of resignation

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which is stealing over the village -

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an ominous quietness is descending.

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I've been able to go into quite a number of homes and pray there,

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and they've been glad of prayer.

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Mr Penberthy, I think that prayer is probably the only thing

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that any of us can rely upon this evening.

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Well, this is what everybody seems to say.

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-We're so helpless - we can't do anything but pray.

-Thank you very much indeed, sir.

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It was my privilege to be at the chapel,

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where the little bodies were brought

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and washed by the dedicated staff in the vestry.

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This is something I have not spoken about for 50 years,

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because it stirs me so much.

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I went in with many of the fathers, one by one,

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where the little bodies were laid out on the pews,

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covered with a blanket.

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And we cried and cried and cried.

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It was no time for words.

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Words failed us.

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And, as grown men, we cried without shame.

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And I cry still.

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Without shame.

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I was privileged to go in with them in their darkest hour.

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And I couldn't have done it without the Hand of God on me.

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That I do know.

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A whole array of hearses collected the bodies

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and took them up to the cemetery.

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I remember that our singing was tremulant.

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And much deep breathing and gulping, yes.

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But we did our best for those...

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Those children.

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The tune of that beautiful hymn, Aberystwyth,

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was written by local lad Joseph Parry,

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who was born in nearby Merthyr Tydfil back in 1841.

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Many musicians have found

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their inspiration and passion for music through the church.

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I certainly did, and so did our next performer,

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as David Grant found out.

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Welcome to Pointless. This is the show where...

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'Alexander Armstrong has forged a career

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'as a prime-time quiz show host.

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'But he's also a chart-topping singer.'

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# Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

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# Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme... #

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Did you come late to singing?

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No, I came late to comedy!

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Singing, I did from the very beginning.

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Singing was what I've always done.

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I was a chorister when I was little.

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I have a theory about this.

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I think being a chorister

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is the best route into any kind of showbiz career.

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-Why is that?

-I think...

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Because you learn, at a very early age, discipline.

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You learn punctuality.

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These are very...

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You might think they're fairly peripheral issues,

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but they are so important.

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You learn to carry a pencil at all times.

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These are things that you learn as a chorister.

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You will have learned the technique of performing,

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how to make your voice sound good, your diction...

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You'll have learned how to polish your shoes.

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I mean, so much that you learn there which is just invaluable

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in terms of your later career.

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So you spent years regularly singing hymns, psalms,

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songs of worship, songs of praise.

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-What effect did that have on you?

-Well, I think it's a very...

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nourishing thing to be doing.

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When you leave your time as a chorister,

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I think you can't help but be familiar

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with a certain spirituality that you get to know.

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The service that you get,

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the litany that you become very, very familiar with,

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is the ancient Book of Common Prayer. Evensong.

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As a chorister, I learned a faith that is faintly impenetrable

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and a little bit mysterious and very ancient and ritualistic.

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I find that quite appealing.

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A lot of Evensongs will take place up and down the country

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in cathedrals, where you have this sort of lovely acoustic,

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and a sort of sense of peace and tranquillity within a building,

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and yet, ten yards out the west door,

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there's rush-hour traffic.

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So, to you, it represents an oasis of calm?

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It does, really,

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and I think that my faith is something

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that I root quite firmly in that, sort of, peace.

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Well, we've talked about singing...

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Now I'd really love to hear you sing.

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-What are you going to sing for us today?

-Hymn Song by Peter Skellern.

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Peter Skellern... Just the most wonderful songwriter.

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He mixed sumptuous harmonies with a beautiful lyric,

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and wonderful textures,

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and this is a song that he's woven...

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He's woven into what is a secular song, really...

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Although, is it?

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I often wonder, as we get to the end.

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You might see what I mean.

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But he's woven "The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended" into that,

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and it's just... It's... I can't...

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I have found myself unable to get to the end of it in the past.

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Well, I hope you get to the end today!

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-LAUGHING:

-I hope so!

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# When like some ember I gradually fade out and die

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# Who's going to stand there and cry?

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# Which one of my friends will know where the book ends?

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# Will know how to tell me goodbye?

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# If like some daydream, I drift through interminable sky

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# Would it have been worth all the pain?

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# Yes, sure would

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# And again

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# Just like a shadow, we leave such a mark and no more

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# Life will go on as before

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# You've broken your heart and you've played out your part

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# And your story don't go on any more

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# If like some whisper that falls with the winter's first snow

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# We're here for a moment or so

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# Then, as dust, we go

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# If we are numbered like some treeless leaf on the breeze

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# Sure, we are easily pleased

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# We hang on to existence just to cover the distance

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# Until we are brought to our knees

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If one drop of rain leaves more of a stain than I

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# Should I just give up and die?

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# No, no, no...

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# Not I

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# When I am called to whatever is calling me home

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# Is there a thing I have known?

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# How long have I lost

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# If I counted the cost I could say I have possibly grown?

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# What take I with me?

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# Nothing but this

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# Once in a momentary kiss

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# I found your love, alone. #

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What better place than here, in the Land of Song,

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to tell you about next week's programme?

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The Hackney Empire in London will be the setting

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for some soul-stirring music...

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# Reaching! #

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..as six top amateur choirs battle it out

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to become BBC Songs Of Praise Gospel Choir Of The Year for 2016.

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# Yeah... #

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You know, before I come to judge Gospel Choir Of The Year,

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I always think, "This is what I'm looking for",

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and it is normally based on the technical things -

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it has to have the right blend,

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it has to have the right vowel sounds, the timing,

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all of it has to be really good.

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But then, when you're sitting there,

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and you have a choir that really moves you,

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for me, that always cuts through.

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# Lord, I live...! #

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A great Gospel choir, for me, is going to stir my soul.

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Either I'm going to leap out of my chair and want to dance,

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or I'm going to be sat in my chair weeping because I am so moved

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by what they are doing vocally.

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It's just got to make you a believer if you're not,

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and strengthen your faith if you are.

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Do you know what I mean? It's just got to touch your soul.

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I'm not looking for perfection.

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I'm looking for something that draws me in, tells me the story,

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but tells it truthfully, so I believe you.

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# Fills my heart...! #

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# Oh, sweet chariot! #

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# Praise, yeah! #

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CHEERING

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Whoo! That's all I have to say.

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Whoo!

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And here are last year's winners,

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Birmingham Community Gospel Choir,

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with their prize-winning song.

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# Now behold the lamb

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# Now behold the lamb

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# Precious Lamb of God

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# The precious Lamb of God

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# Born into sin

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# Born into sin

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# That I may live again

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-# He's the precious Lamb of God

-The precious Lamb of God

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# Holy is the Lamb

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# Holy is the Lamb

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# Precious Lamb of God

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# The precious Lamb of God

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# Why you love me so...

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# Why you love me so

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# Lord, I shall never know

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-# He's the precious Lamb of God

-The precious Lamb of God

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# Even when I broke, broke your heart

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# My sins tore us apart

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# Hallelujah!

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# Yeah, I'm standing right here

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# In the midst of my tears

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# And, Lord, I claim you to be the Lamb of God

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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# New life can begin, yeah

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# For he washed away, washed away every one of my sins

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# Who the soul sets free

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# Truly free and deep

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# And, Lord, I claim you to be The La-a-amb of God

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE # Oh-oh-oh

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# Oh-oh-oh-oh

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# Oh-oh-oh Oh-oh Oh-oh

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# Oh-oh

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# Why you love me so

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# Lord, I shall never know

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# The precious Lamb of God

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# Why you love me so

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# Lord, I shall never know

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# The precious Lamb of God. #

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APPLAUSE AND CHEERING

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And we're back here in Wales for our next hymn.

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Ar Hyd Y Nos is a traditional Welsh folk song,

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familiar in English as All Through The Night.

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# Holl amrantau'r ser ddywedant

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# Ar hyd y nos

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# Dyma'r ffordd i fro gogoniant

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# Ar hyd y nos

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# Golau arall yw tywyllwch

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# I arddangos gwir brydferthwch

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# Teulu'r nefoedd mewn tawelwch

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# Ar hyd y nos

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# Sleep a while and peace attend thee

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# All through the night

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# Guardian angels God will lend thee

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# All through the night

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# Soft the dreary hours are creeping

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# Hill and vale in slumber sleeping

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# God alone his watch is keeping

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# All through the night. #

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The morning was very, very misty...

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And it was about ten past nine, I think,

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when I heard this terrific crash.

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Sheila was the mother of three children,

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all at school on the day of the Aberfan disaster.

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And there was a knock at the door, and it was Pat, my middle daughter,

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who said, "Mammy, the school's fallen down...

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"and I can't find Sharon and I can't find Gwyn."

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So we went to the school...

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..and the site was...terrible.

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On the top of the school steps,

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Gwyn was there, in terrible shock.

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My heart was in my mouth.

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So, as a mother, when did you begin to lose hope?

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Unless you're presented with the absolute truth,

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a mother will hope for the best.

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Of course.

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I kept hope going...

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until about three o'clock in the morning the next day...

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when my husband came home and said,

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"They found Sharon."

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And that's when I faced the fact

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that Sharon had perished in the school.

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How tough was it for you

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in the days and the months that followed what had happened?

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Well, it was very tough indeed,

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because I had two surviving children.

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They needed their mother more than ever,

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and the only way I could cope with it at that time

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was that I'd wait until the others were asleep,

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and I'd come down and cry my eyes out...

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..downstairs...

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where nobody could see me or hear me.

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But years of crying have passed...

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..until I can't cry any more.

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I felt that the only person I could turn to

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was Jesus the Christ...

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and that, at my worst...point in my life,

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His hand was there for me.

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And that was why I could come out of it

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and heal up to a certain point.

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But we don't heal altogether, you know,

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because we are left with the emotional scars.

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And they are very tender at this time of the year.

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How do you remember your daughter 50 years on?

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Well, I remember Sharon as a...

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..strong, strong-willed girl,

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with a very loud voice.

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And...she was the boss of the other two, you know.

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And I miss her to this day.

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Music helps us express our deepest feelings,

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and, even in times of great sorrow,

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it has the ability to lift and inspire us.

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We're going to end today's programme

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with a hymn more than any other that's associated

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with the enduring spirit of Wales.

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To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, which claimed the lives of 144 people, including 116 children, Aled Jones hears from two people speaking for the first time about the day that changed their lives and shocked the world.

Music:

Love Divine from Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff Jesu Lover of My Soul from St David's Cathedral, Cardiff Hymn Song performed by Alexander Armstrong Now Behold the Lamb from the Hackney Empire, London All Through the Night from St German's Church, Cardiff Aberfan Hymn from Morriston Tabernacle, Swansea Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah from Tabernacle Chapel, Cardiff.


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