Pen-Y-Gwryd_Hotel_smallerpicAfter becoming the first man to climb Mount Everest Sir Edmund Hillary returned to North Wales where he had trained for the historic event.

Planning to meet up with Lord Hunt and the rest of the expedition for their first-ever reunion, Hillary arrived late at the Pen y Gwryd hotel and was told that everyone had already set off for the summit of Snowdon.

Without bothering to change into appropriate clothing, Hillary set off after his friends.

Halfway up he was accosted by a distinguished-looking gentleman who told him off for wearing inappropriate clothing which gave “hill walkers and climbers a bad name”.

The story, infused with humour and cut from the DNA of the history of climbing folklore, gets to the heart of the historic Pen y Gwryd hotel, which has now been celebrated in a new collection of stories and memories that explain why the building has become a “place of pilgrimage for mountaineers the world over”.

EverestPlaqueJan Morris, who was the only newspaper correspondent embedded with the 1953 Everest expedition, describes the hotel as “one of the great climbers’ inns of Europe”.

Among the items on display there is the length of rope which connected Hillary and Tenzing Norgay as they disappeared into the mist at the roof of the earth, making their ascent on Everest’s summit.

The rope was essential and functional then; it has since developed significance as a symbol of humankind’s endeavour. It must appear in the dreams of many of those pilgrims and adventurers who are drawn to the Pen y Gwyrd.

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‘The Pen y Gwryd Hotel: Tales from the Smoke Room’ is a 259-page hardback book which has been compiled and edited by Rob Goodfellow, Jonathan Copeland and Peter O’Neill. It is priced £14.99 and is published by Gomer Press http://www.gomer.co.uk

A forgotten tragedy

Posted: July 28, 2016 in History
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The toll bridge at Penmaenpool.

 The toll bridge at Penmaenpool.

The wooden toll bridge at Penmaenpool provides a peaceful walk for visitors to the Mawddach Estuary near Dolgellau.

The area is a haven for walkers, cyclists and bird watchers. The RSPB has turned an old signal box into an observation centre overlooking the estuary.

But the Grade II-listed bridge, which was built in 1879, was not always peaceful.

In July 1966, it was the scene of a great tragedy when the Prince of Wales ferry, which was nearing the end of its pleasure trip from Barmouth, got into trouble as it tried to pull up alongside the nearby jetty.

15 people died when tragedy struck this peaceful corner of Wales

15 people died when tragedy struck this peaceful corner of Wales

The vessel was washed into the wooden toll bridge and quickly sank, with its passengers being thrown into the fast-running incoming tide.

Staff from the nearby George III hotel and the toll bridge itself rushed to help but 15 of the 39 people on board drowned.

A peaceful corner of Wales, but a scene of great sadness for so many.

 

*First published on jonkilkade.com

 

Aberfan, Gaynor Madgwick & Greg Lewis

Via Y Lolfa

On the 21st of October 1966, the village of Aberfan in south Wales was shattered by one of the worst disasters in Welsh and British history.

Following days of bad weather, water from a spring had destabilized a huge coal slag tip – one of the black man-made mountains which surrounded the village. Thousands of tonnes of coal tip waste slid down a mountainside and devastated the mining village of Aberfan. The black mass crashed through the local school, where pupils were celebrating the last day of term.

One hundred and forty-four people were killed. One hundred and sixteen were schoolchildren. Gaynor Madgwick was there. She was eight years old and severely injured. Her brother and sister were in  classrooms either side of her. Both died.

Recalling the horrific event in a diary four years later, Gaynor wrote, ‘I heard a terrible, terrible sound, a rumbling sound. It was so loud. I just didn’t know what it was. It seemed like the school went numb, you could hear a pin drop. I was suddenly petrified and glued to the chair. It sounded like the end of the world had come.’

In Aberfan – A Story of Survival, Love and Community in One Of Britain’s Worst Disasters, Gaynor tells her own story and interviews people affected by that day – from the bereaved and the rescuers, to the police and royalty. She explores the nature of courage, grief and faith, to create both a moving personal story of one family’s pain and a definitive account of the events that shook the nation and the world.

‘For the past 50 years I have lived as a sort of prisoner or victim of my past. Now I am trying to break free.’ said Gaynor. ‘I started this book by looking again at the writings of my young self. I’ve tried to explore the determination, courage and resilience which got me through. Then, I set out on a journey, to find those same qualities in my community, to see how it had coped, survived and often thrived.’

The Earl of Snowdon – who was there hours after the disaster – described it as ‘one of the most moving experiences of my life.’

‘Gaynor Madgwick’s book, Aberfan, is a brave, heartbreaking and inspiring journey in which she re-visits the story of what happened to her and to the whole community of Aberfan on that dreadful day.’ he said. ‘It is a book that should be read by all of us in memory of those who died and those who survived.’

Broadcaster Vincent Kane said, ‘Gaynor Madgwick was pulled injured from one of the classrooms where her friends died. She was left behind to live out her life. This is her story, sad, sweet, sentimental, and authentic. I commend it to you.’

‘October 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of that awful day. For 50 years we have been trying to recover from the Aberfan disaster. It’s a long road, and we take it one day at a time.’ said Gaynor.

‘I’ve tried to tell this story in a way in which it has never been told before, beginning by reliving Aberfan through the eyes of a survivor.  As a survivor, now 58 years old, I have been haunted by the memories of the Aberfan disaster.

‘I wanted to create the fullest picture of the disaster and its aftermath while people were still around to tell their story.

‘For me, I can’t start the next chapter of my life if I keep rereading the last one; this book will help me move on. My hope is that it will help others move on too.’

Aberfan – A Story of Survival, Love and Community in One of Britain’s Worst Disasters by Gaynor Madgwick (£9.99, Y Lolfa) is available now.

I was delighted to be involved in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales, marking the work of nurses today and over the past five decades.

I produced these films (edited by Collin Games and filmed by Paul Roberts and Gareth Thomas).

And there is also a commemorative book, Nursing Matters.

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As actor Michael Sheen states on the back cover, “There is no more fundamental or valuable service than to devote yourself to the care of others in their times of greatest need. It is the most noble of tasks and the highest of aspirations.”

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Video  —  Posted: April 15, 2016 in Books, Health, History, Video
Tags: , , , ,

Les Spence was a remarkable man who kept an astonishing journal. For almost four years he risked his life to keep a daily record of hardship, courage and endurance in prison camps run by the Japanese. He and his fellow prisoners faced starvation, disease and cruelty. They kept up their spirits by playing sport, listening […]

via Nagasaki: It was simply astounding, nothing left standing for miles, everything flat and burnt out. — jon kilkade

A Life On The Edge, reviewed by Lyn Ebenezer, author of Operation Julie and Fron-goch Camp 1916

A Life on the Edge, Eric Jones/Greg Lewis

A Life on the Edge

 

 

I have never met Eric Jones, yet I feel as if I know him well. Two contributions on the back cover of his autobiography sum up my impression of his character. One is a long-range photo that picks him out on the north face of the Eiger, like a forlorn gnat slithering towards the upper reaches of a gigantic frosty window pane. The other is a quotation by fellow mountaineer Reinhold Messner: ‘Eric’s many solo ascents can be respected for being free of any sense of heroics, and for his sense of humour when his stories are told. His strength, self-sufficiency and silent courage are admirable.’

Jones may not have any sense of heroics, but he is a hero. Heroes achieve feats that we mere mortals can only dream of realising. Heroes are modest. Heroes are fearless. Heroes respect the challenges that lie before them. Eric Jones is a hero.

Summing up Jones’s achievements could, on its own, fill this chunky, liberally illustrated volume. Greg Lewis manages to compress them into his opening blurb: Jones was the first British man to climb the Eiger’s north face, he has soared over Everest in a hot air balloon, he has parachuted onto the North Pole, he has skydived into the Cave of Swallows in Mexico, and now he has written, with Lewis, a cracker of a story.

To someone like me who is terrified of heights (I live in a bungalow), Jones is a superhuman. Leo Dickenson, cameraman-climber extraordinary, reveals in his foreword that in fifty years of knowing him, he can never remember Jones refusing an adventure. Yet Jones has known fear – his greatest being chased by a cockerel. His fascinating tale leads us from humble beginnings at Brynsaithmarchog around and above – and in some cases below – the earth.

Heroes, of course, can be boring. Like cockerels, some tend to crow. Jones, however, understates his feats. Imagine him hurtling towards seemingly certain death on the North Face of the Matterhorn. Rather than panic, he merely hoped it wouldn’t hurt. Incredibly, despite such dangers, he manages to posses an inner peace.

Jones is the kind of man whose hand I would dearly wish to shake. But please let it happen on level ground!

See the original review on the website of the Welsh Books Council.

Rob Webb’s sister, Laura, was murdered in the July 7 bombings. As he grieved Rob, a well-known PR officer in Wales, found himself at the centre of the biggest news story in the world.

Rob is in London today, remembering Laura and the other victims. I found this interview with him in my archive. In it, he discusses Laura, the bombers and how his PR skills helped him deal with the media in the aftermath of the terror attack.

 

WHEN PRIVATE GRIEF IS WORLD NEWS

First published in The Big Issue September 12-18 2005

 

After the London bombings Rob Webb spent days doing media interviews in a desperate search for his sister. He tells Greg Lewis how it felt to mourn her death under the glare of the media spotlight.

 

MOHAMMAD Sidique Khan made his horrific mark on the world at 8.51am on Thursday, July 7.

That morning he got up to kill as many people as he could and to change the lives of hundreds more. Among them, Rob Webb and his family.

Rob arrived at work that day at the usual time, around 8.30am. He spent the first hour going through emails at his office in Cardiff’s County Hall.

At 9.30am he attended a daily briefing and got back to his desk by 10am.

On the internet he read the first reports about a ‘power surge’ on the London Underground. Trains were being stopped and stations evacuated. Like many others Rob thought of friends and family in the city.

He wondered about his sister, Laura, a personal assistant in central London.

He rang her mobile phone but it went to voicemail. “There was no way I could know it but Laura was already dead,” he says now.

As the full horror of what was really happening became clear, Laura’s family began their desperate search for their loving sister, daughter, girlfriend.

Thinking she could be lying unidentified in a hospital or walking around the city in a daze, they began a massive media campaign – and public relations man Rob found himself at the uncomfortable heart of an international news story.

The family’s fears were already growing by lunchtime on the day of the bombing. Laura had neither got to work nor returned to her home in Islington. She was not the kind of person to forget to call: she knew people would be worried.

Rob – who lives in Cardiff – contacted the missing person’s bureau and then, after a discussion with brother David, decided to make an appeal through the press. Over the next week, the 39-year-old, who writes press releases everyday, had to write the two most heartbreaking of his life.

“At 6am on the Friday I wrote a press release saying Laura was missing and sent it out with a photograph taken at Christmas,” he says. “It showed her smiling, a happy beautiful woman. It would be used on television and on the front of a national newspaper.

“We just wanted to get it out there because we knew she could be in a hospital somewhere. We knew there were injured people who weren’t identified. We had everything to play for. We had to do something.”

Rob distributed the picture through his contacts in the Welsh media and then, through a friend, to the newsdesks of newspapers and television stations in London.

On the Friday, as well as featuring on the front of the South Wales Echo, he began to do interviews for the London press.

“In these situations you look at what you can do,” says Rob. “Often when it comes to helping your family PR comes fairly low down the list of skills – it’s not like I’m a plumber or something.

“David and I wanted to do as many interviews as possible. We would never give up on Laura. Never. The police were giving us no indication either way as to whether they thought she was alive or dead. We would do her a disservice if we didn’t do everything we possibly could.”

The brothers spent an hour-and-half outside King’s Cross – the unofficial meeting place for desperate relatives and journalists – on the Saturday, speaking to UK and then foreign crews.

“It started off alright but some of the overseas crews became too much,” he says. “I’m used to doing photocalls and organising other people to be interviewed. David and I were on our own. In the end my partner Bethan jumped in to help us. It was just a scrum.”

Some British crews drove David around from hospital to hospital. “We would hear rumour after rumour and we followed them all up,” he explains.

In the meantime Rob’s family – including his parents and Laura’s partner Chris Driver – were appointed family liaison officers by the police. Rob says the officers are amazing and he remains in contact with them now.

“However, the longer time went on, when the police would call, we felt it was more and more likely they would be bringing bad news,” he says.

It was at 6pm on the following Wednesday that the police arrived at the family home in Kingston-on-Thames, where they have lived since the early 1970s, to bring the news they had dreaded.

Using a DNA swab from her parents, the police had identified Laura. The bomb at Edgware Road carried by Khan – the ‘quiet terrorist’ who worked with special needs pupils and deprived teenagers in his home community of Leeds – had killed the 29-year-old instantly.

Rob says of that meeting: “It was horrible.”

The police then drove Rob to break the news to Chris.

“It was heartbreaking,” he says. “I will never forget that day and never want to go through it again.”

Rob then had to sit down and write his second press release of the week, confirming the death of a “kind, loving and beautiful” young person – their Laura.

Fifty-two innocent people died in the four explosions on July 7 in London. Seven hundred were injured, with many left with horrific wounds.

In the weeks since there has been much debate about what caused the first suicide attack on British soil. The invasion of Iraq – which Rob now reveals Laura marched against – has been blamed.

Rob, though, is emphatic: “The only people responsible were the people who carried the bombs and the ones who supported them.

“It’s too simplistic to say the bombings are about Iraq. The bombers aren’t showing any interest in innocent Iraqis that are dying. A million people marched against the war on Iraq but a million people aren’t going out suicide bombing.

“Laura cared about moral rights and wrongs. She actually went on the march against the Iraq war. I’ve never spoken about this because I knew the news angle would be: ‘the tragic irony’.

“Well, no, it’s not irony. The bombings were indiscriminate. It doesn’t matter if Laura was in favour or against the Iraq war. The fact is she got up in the morning, went to work and got killed on the way there by a maniac.

“These people got up in the morning with the intention of killing people. Anybody.”

Rob – who had announced his engagement to Bethan only weeks before Laura’s death – knows there are still tough times ahead for the family. A National Memorial service in November. Christmas, Laura’s favourite time of year. The anniversary of her death and of her private funeral on July 22 (which 500 people attended).

But they have been sustained by a faith in God and in humanity.

“It was an act of evil by four bombers that killed Laura and the other innocent people,” he states. “But hundreds of people took the time to text our family, to ring us, to send us cards – they filled our home with flowers. That shows me the world isn’t a bad place. Good outweighs evil.”