YOUR MP WRITES: Torfaen MP Paul Murphy

South Wales Argus: Paul Murphy MP Paul Murphy MP

ABOVE my desk hangs an engraving that portrays wives and mothers waiting for news at the mouth of the Llanerch colliery, after the explosion deep underground there on 6th February 1890.

That day, my grandfather was off work, and was therefore most likely saved by his illness from joining the 176 men and boys who lost their lives.

He used to tell me of the miners and other working people who rushed to the area to help, of the coffins stacked in his living room in the dreadful days that followed, and of his return to the coalface less than a fortnight later.

The picture reminds me of the enormous debt of gratitude that I owe to my grandfather and father. It was at their insistence that I had a decent education and forged a life free from the daily pain, suffering and loss that they endured underground. It is in their honour that the proud mining heritage of our valleys must not be forgotten.

At the site in Abersychan, a modest plaque pays tribute to the dead. It can be viewed as part of the attractive Blaensychan storywalk. But I can't help thinking that a fuller narration of the tragedy and tribute to its survivors is needed, given the monumental shadow the tragedy cast over the Eastern Valley.

Other families in our area will have similar stories to tell of loss to accidents at work, in the mines, iron and steelworks and factories of our valleys. Many will be a lot sadder than mine. These are stories of our heritage that should be told to our younger people, so that they recognize that we have a proud history of strength and of community spirit - something that no "constructed reality" programme from MTV could ever subvert.

The grounds of St. Peter's Church in Blaenavon, which are being renovated by an inspiring team of local volunteers, also contain signs of the bravery and loss of our people - from the seven war graves on the site to the headstone I noticed of a young man killed in an accident at Big Pit.

That there are people willing to do this renovation work is again evidence of a spirit of community-minded selflessness and generosity in our valley. That there are signs of such loss should once more remind us of our heritage, but also about how far we have come since mothers, wives, sons and daughters sent their men off to work fearing that they may not return. In an age where "health and safety" has become something we sometimes scoff at, that is worth remembering.

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