South East Wales

Prince Charles visits Six Bells miners' memorial

Prince Charles at the Guardian memorial
Image caption Prince Charles chatted with families at the site of the Guardian memorial

Prince Charles visited a memorial to 45 men and boys who died in a mining disaster, during a day of official engagements in Wales.

The prince visited the Six Bells miners' memorial near Abertillery, Blaenau Gwent, meeting relatives of miners killed in an explosion in 1960.

The prince also met Prince's Trust volunteers in Newport and toured a brewery in Monmouthshire.

His day ended at the Welsh premiere of the film Resistance in Abergavenny.

The prince's visit to Six Bells came three days after he met search and rescue crews who battled in vain to save four miners trapped at the flooded Gleision Colliery in the Swansea valley in September.

The Six Bells miners' memorial, a 12.6m (41ft) statue of a miner built from more than 20,000 individual slices of 10mm thick steel, was officially opened last year on the 50th anniversary of the disaster.

The prince met the artist, Sebastien Boyesen, and project team as well as members of the community involved in the venture.

He also chatted with former mine worker and local councillor Jim Watkins.

'Humble'

The 80-year-old grandfather-of-two escaped the disaster because a last-minute shift change saw him deployed to another part of the site.

He said: "The prince was very humble and said he understood the memorial meant a great deal to me, which it does.

"I was due to be working as an electrician at the part of the mine where the disaster occurred that fateful day, but my line manager decided to send me to another part as the night shift had made good progress.

"An image that stays with me to this day was that I saw one of the boys, Dennis, go off in a cart - and he waved goodbye to me as he went off to work.

"Little did we know that I would be going to safety and he off to his death.

"So the memorial, as well as the prince's visit, means a tremendous amount to me. The prince being here has really brought a buzz to the place."

Mr Boyesen, 51, said the memorial had been hard work both "physically and emotionally".

He added: "It took 18 months to go from paper to the monument being completed, 12 months of which involved planning and finding funding, while the remainder was spent actually constructing it.

"The council have to be commended for the scheme and, as an artist, it's immensely gratifying for my work to be recognised - especially by royalty."

Image caption The deaths of 45 miners deeply shocked the Six Bells community

After viewing the statue, titled Guardian, Prince Charles officially opened the refurbished community centre, Ty Ebbw Fach, developed by Six Bells Communities First and run by Six Bells Regeneration, a community-run social enterprise business.

The £750,000 revamp of the old Coach and Horses pub in the village is run and staffed by unpaid volunteers as a bistro and heritage centre with meeting rooms.

'Fitting tribute'

Six Bells Communities First coordinator Mair Sheen said: "Guardian has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the area and the new community facility will help build on this for years to come through increased tourism and regeneration of the area.

"Guardian has fulfilled our aim to create a fitting tribute to the 45 men who lost their lives."

After meeting staff at Ty Ebbw Fach, Charles addressed the gathered crowd - many of whom waved Welsh flags - saying he was impressed by the warm welcome from the "inspirational" community.

"I hope I will be able to return to the see the new garden when it opens," he added.

Image caption Prince Charles during his visit to the InBev brewey at Magor

Later, in Newport, he gave his royal approval to three charities' work.

He met young beneficiaries of the Prince's Trust, Business in the Community and The Young Dragons during a visit to Pillgwenlly Millennium Centre.

Before addressing the crowd in the sports hall, he watched a demonstration by youngsters from the Cwmbran Young Firefighters.

The prince also heard from officials and youngsters taking part in the Motivational Preparation College Training Scheme (MPCT).

Josh Greenslade, 17, of Ely, Cardiff, said: "I've gained a lot of self-confidence since I've started with MPCT.

"When I first started I never would have thought I would have done things like rock climbing and gorge walking - let alone meeting royalty."

The teenager was handed a specially-made MPCT commemorative coin by the prince.

"I will always treasure this," added Josh, who hopes to serve in the Army.

"I had a bit of a chat with the Prince and he said he hopes to see me in the Royal Welsh regiment in the future."

Prince Charles also toured the InBev Brewery at Magor, near Caldicot, before attending the premiere at Abergavenny's Baker Street Cinema of Michael Sheen's latest film.

Resistance, based on Welsh poet Owen Sheers' novel, imagines life in Nazi-occupied Wales during World War II.

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