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Coronavirus has thwarted a retired Angus lorry driver’s plan to retrace the mercy journey he took to the Welsh village of Aberfan on the latest anniversary of the 1960s school tragedy there.
John Sibbit from Arbroath was a new dad working hard behind the wheel to earn for his family in October 1966 when fate took him to the community where a coal spoil tip engulfed Pantglas junior school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.
He had just returned from a gruelling trip to Swansea when the television news flashed up horrific images of the scene in the village near Merthyr Tydfil.
The 23-year-old trucker, who was nicknamed the Lunan Bay Flyer after a popular Angus beach, did not hesitate when he was asked to get straight back in the cab and drive sandbags to Wales on a truck operated by D&D Transport of Dundee.
Now 77, John was forced to cancel plans to make a poignant 50th anniversary pilgrimage after being diagnosed with bowel cancer but had been determined to try to go to Aberfan this week, until tightened Welsh Covid-19 controls put a stop to the idea.
“I will never forget that time, I still think about Aberfan, especially around the time of the anniversary and I have been determined to go back,” said John, who drove coaches for firms including Stagecoach and Angus firm G&N Wishart during his career.
“Being a lorry driver was a job I loved and I’d just come back from Swansea when we found out about Aberfan.
“My boss arrived at my door and asked if I could drive down there and I didn’t think for a second that it was something I wouldn’t do.”
A brand new Dodge six-wheel truck was loaded up in Dundee for the journey, and a recently unearthed photograph of the vehicle at Aberfan has added another layer to John’s memories of the mercy mission.
“My wife, June came with me and we set off at midnight, and got there at 3pm the next day.”
The terrible sight in the mining village as rescuers frantically dug through the sludge in the vain hope of finding survivors in the school has haunted him across the intervening decades, but Mr Sibbit said he remains determined to return there in respect to the community he played a small part in helping.
“I still like driving but I want to go the route as close to what we travelled in October 1966. It’s a fair old trip, but I feel able to do it and hoped that this might be the year.
“But when the Wales coronavirus situation developed and there was talk of new restrictions I didn’t think it was right to go all that way and maybe face problems at the other end.
“I need to go back there, it is something I want to do and I hope I can make it on the next anniversary.”
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