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Angel of the Valleys: memories of the Six Bells colliery disaster

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BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 13:56 UK time, Monday, 23 August 2010

The Six Bells colliery mining explosion in Abertillery was one of worst post-war coal mining disasters in UK history.

On the morning of 28 June 1960 an underground gas and coal dust explosion claimed the lives of 45 local men.

Iris Evans was a senior nursing officer at the time. Now living in Newcastle Emlyn, she describes arriving at the colliery to assist the rescue teams.

"You think of an explosion as an uproar but when I arrived at the colliery it was quiet," she remembers. "Everybody was just waiting."

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The school room behind the chapel was turned into an overflow mortuary. it was here that the men's bodies were carried during the night when there weren't many people around.

Along with Dr Ron Shepherd, who was acting as a coroner for that time, Iris Evans prepared for identification the bodies of the men that had been killed.

Fifty years on from the disaster, at the official commemoration service led by the Most Reverend Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, a memorial to the tragedy was unveiled.

The 20 metre high statue of a miner, known as the Guardian of the Valleys, has been created to serve as a reminder of the terrible price that miners from all over Wales and the world have paid working in the mining industry.

Created by Sebastien Boyesen, the statue is made from thousands of metal strips. Boyesen had only six months to complete the statue, a complex job that would normally take at least a year.

BBC Wales followed the artist as he began creating the memorial.

Alongside the tensions surrounding the building and installation of the sculpture, the programme tells the true stories of the families who lost loved ones in the disaster.

It also includes the experiences of some of those who were actually there at the time of the accident.

Angel of the Valleys can be seen on Tuesday 24 August at 7pm on BBC Two Wales.

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