On October 21, 1966, the students and teachers of Pantglas Junior School in Aberfan, a small village in Wales, were about to begin their lessons when disaster struck. A nearby "spoil tip" (or surplus of mining waste) collapsed on a school, burying everyone trapped inside in an avalanche of slurry, and eventually killing 116 children and 28 adults.
Aberfan is said to be the Queen's biggest regret.
While the Queen was made aware of the tragedy shortly after it happened, she waited eight days to visit the Welsh community, a delay, which she is said to regret immensely.
"Aberfan affected the Queen very deeply, I think, when she went there. It was one of the few occasions in which she shed tears in public," Sir William Heseltine, who served in the royal press office at the time, revealed in the documentary Elizabeth: Our Queen.
"I think she felt in hindsight that she might have gone there a little earlier. It was a sort of lesson for us that you need to show sympathy and to be there on the spot, which I think people craved from her."
According to Sally Bechdel Smith's biography Elizabeth the Queen, the monarch's caution wasn't a decision made out of coldness, but rather practicality. "People will be looking after me, she said according to Smith. "Perhaps they'll miss some poor child that might have been found under the wreckage."
And despite numerous suggestions that she should make the trip, the Queen stayed resolute in her opinion.
"We kept presenting the arguments," an advisor of the Queen's told her biographer Robert Lacey, "but nothing we said could persuade her."
Instead, the Queen sent her husband Prince Philip. Her brother-in-law Lord Snowdon, traveled there on his own as well.
"When I heard the news of the disaster on the wireless I felt I should be there because I was Welsh and thought the Welsh should stick together. So I just got on a train and went straight down," Snowdon told WalesOnline in 2006, for a story about the 40th anniversary of the tragedy.
He wrote to Princess Margaret, "Darling, it was the most terrible thing I have ever seen."
The Queen finally decided to visit to Aberfan eight days after the disaster.
Despite the monarch's remorse over her initial reaction to to the tragedy, for many survivors, her eventual presence was a comfort.
"If the Queen does regret not coming here straight away, I think that is misplaced," Jeff Edwards, who survived the disaster when he was eight years old, told the South Wales Echo in 2002. "When she did arrive she was visibly upset and the people of Aberfan appreciated her being here...She came when she could and nobody would condemn her for not coming earlier, especially as everything was such a mess."
In truth, some locals didn't even notice that she wasn't there immediately after the tragedy. There was simply so much else to pay attention to.
Generally speaking, the Queen is rarely emotional in public, instead maintaining a stereotypical British stiff upper lip. But in Aberfan, she let her guard down, even crying a little.
“The one thing I recall about the Aberfan disaster was the arrival of the Queen and how it made her cry,” Sir Mansel Aylward said in 2012.
Aylward was a doctor who had come to Aberfan to help identify the bodies of the children. His cousins had died in the school.
“For the Queen to do what she did, to show sympathy in the way that she did with the people she had only just met, must’ve been very difficult," he said.
“She was very moved by what she saw. She tried to hold back tears but it did make her cry."
The Queen has since returned to Aberfan four more times.
"The people here admire her and I think they have a strong affinity with her," Coun Edwards, a surviver of the disaster, said in 2002.
In 2016, the Queen sent a personal message, delivered by Prince Charles, to the people of Aberfan to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.
As you come together as a community today to mark fifty years since the dreadful events of Friday 21st October 1966, I want you to know that you are in my own and my family’s thoughts, as well as the thoughts of the nation.
We will all be thinking about the 144 people who died – most of them children between the ages of seven and ten – and the hundreds more who have lived with the shock and grief of that day, summed up by one poet who said simply, “All the elements of tragedy are here.”
I well remember my own visit with Prince Philip after the disaster, and the posy I was given by a young girl, which bore the heart-breaking inscription, “From the remaining children of Aberfan.” Since then, we have returned on several occasions and have always been deeply impressed by the remarkable fortitude, dignity and indomitable spirit that characterises the people of this village and the surrounding valleys. On this saddest of anniversaries, I send my renewed good wishes to you all.
The producers of The Crown worked with survivors of the disaster to ensure that the series handled the topic sensitively.
Edwards told the BBC that he has been in touch with the show's production team, and that he also helped set up meetings for members of the community to discuss the show.
"Following these meetings the production team decided to put on a public meeting which was held earlier this month and at which a dozen or so residents turned up and they outlined their proposals to them," Edwards said in September of last year.
The producers also released a statement about the show's portrayal of the disaster, "The third season of The Crown will cover the major historical events of Elizabeth II's reign from 1963-1977 and all strongly felt the Aberfan disaster and the events that followed must be included, especially as it continues to hold a deep resonance for the nation and the Queen herself. "
The statement continues, "As producers, we feel a responsibility to remain true to the memory and the experience of the survivors, so have met with community leaders, as well as the people of Aberfan on a number of occasions as part of our in depth research and to discuss our approach." They have not filmed in Aberfan; instead, Cwmaman reportedly serves as the backdrop for these scenes.
"It was all very dignified, Olivia Colman is clearly taking her role very seriously," one onlooker told the BBC about the film set.
"There was a very sombre mood. I think everyone involved in the production realizes what an awful tragedy Aberfan was."
All 10 episodes of The Crown's third season are available to stream on Netflix now.
Watch the trailer for show's trailer below:
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