Photographer I.C. Rapoport shares this story behind this image of Ronnie Davies in the Aberfan: The Days After exhibition here at The National Library of Wales.
“This is RONNIE DAVIES. I met Ronnie while wandering the streets of Aberfan a month or so after the disaster. He was walking his dog, alone and I stopped him to have a chat. He told me that his brother died in the Junior School. He had just began going to the Senior School down the street and though it suffered damage, no one was killed in that school – only some, like John Collins’ boy Raymond, were killed for being outside on the street or on retaining walls. Ronnie tearfully told me how much he missed his little brother – a brother he loved and cared for and ‘protected’. But he couldn’t save him from the big slide. The young boy was crushed in his classroom. Ronnie asked me why his brother died and he lived. He was confused about it and suffered terribly from survivor’s guilt. All I could say at the time was perhaps God had a plan for Ronnie Davies, that he’d been spared to carry on and do good things. Be a good man. Make his brother proud.
Forty years later, just after the exhibition at the Library, I was made part of a video: The American Photographer Returns to Aberfan. I was to reconnect with some of the children I photographed who were now around 50 years old. Ronnie Davies was one of [the] men I met. When I entered their home, his wife approached me and gave me a hug. I was a bit startled by that, not knowing her but she immediately told me that Ronnie had spoken of me all through the years and was so looking forward to meeting me again. He never spoke of the day the disaster happened but I had made such an impression on him. When he stepped forward he was a bit shy but warmed to me and asked me if I recalled what I had said to him that day I took his photo? I couldn’t recall and he reminded me of those words written above. That he should be a good man and make his brother proud and he said that he was a good man. And his wife said, from the kitchen, “He is a very good man.”
Then Ronnie left the front room and disappeared to the rear of the home and when he emerged he was carrying a table game. A game that I had given him on Christmas Day, my very last day in Aberfan. He kept it all those years in perfect condition, a symbol of the encouragement I had given him and the hope to carry on.
I saw him again last month at the Redhouse in Merthyr at the launch of my digital exhibit. It was a warm reunion and a tearful one, for both of us. Fifty years had passed. My story had an impact on so many residents of Aberfan who now call me a “son of Aberfan” and thank me for doing what I did to show the recovery of a broken village. But what I did not realize [was] how much of an impact the villagers had on me.”
Aberfan: The Days After exhibition, containing I. C. Rapoport’s photographs, is on display at The National Library of Wales until 14 January 2017.
Bethan Rees ~ Digtial Access