The only public war memorial in our ‘area of interest’, the ancient parish of Roath, is the one outside St Saviour’s church in Splott. That leaves a lot of the people who lost their lives in WWI, WWII and other conflicts not remembered. One way to rectify that would be to have a ‘virtual’ memorial, in some ways following the good example of Grangetown Local History Society in their work. I have started to assemble a Roath virtual war memorial but it is early days yet.
One way to derive a list of the war casualties is to visit the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. There you can search for specific casualties or search by keyword. We are lucky in that the suburbs we are interested in have fairly unique names; Splott, Adamsdown, Roath, Penylan, Cathays, Cyncoed etc. I looked at the first name on the Cyncoed list and found Francis Wilberforce Gaccon. As I began to research the person behind the name more deeply I began to uncover his interesting life story.
Francis ‘Frank’ Wilberforce Gaccon was born on 6th April 1888. His father was Watkin Gaccon, originally from Aberdare and a marine engine engineer. His mother was Alice Charlotte Morgan originally from Overton, Gloucestershire on the banks of the River Severn. Frank grows up in 96 Habershon Street, Splott where he attended Splottlands School and Cardiff University College (1904-11).
He followed his father into engineering receiving his training with Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds. After holding various positions with this firm he joined the staff of Nash’s Autocars, Cardiff, and after two years started his own business as a garage and engineering works company. During WWI he worked for Bute Docks Engineers and Shipping Company under the Admiralty fitting engines to lifeboats of hospital ships.
After WWI he worked for a year for the Royal insurance Company before again starting up his own successful company Frank Gaccon & Co Consulting Engineer and Damage Assessors serving all the leading insurance companies for South Wales. In 1926 he was elected as a full member of the Institute of Automobile Engineers His head office offices were based in Charles Street, Cardiff.
Frank had a very successful sporting career. He started his career playing football then converted to rugby playing initially for Penylan and in January 1908 is talked about as a promising forward playing for Cardiff Reserves. By December that year he is already in the Cardiff first team playing against Australia.
He played 105 times for Cardiff Rugby Club including against Australia in 1908 (Cardiff won 24-8) and against South Africa in 1912 (Cardiff lost 6-7). One later newspaper report indicates he may have played for Wales but that appears erroneous. Frank was elected captain of Cardiff for the first official post-war season 1919-20 but he had to resign after a few games owing to injury. He was captain Cardiff Rugby (Wartime Charities) XV against the New Zealand Army team in 1919. The game was played in front of a crowd of 10,000 in Cardiff and ended up scoreless. He was also Honorary Secretary of the Cardiff Rugby (Wartime Charities) XV charity that raised almost £2000 during the season, £100,000 in today’s money.
After finishing his rugby playing career he went onto enjoy yachting and became commodore of Barry Yacht Club.
He married three times. In 1917 he married Gertrude Alice Hamlin but sadly their marriage was short lived as she passed away a year later. At that time he was living in 8 Agincourt Road, Roath. In 1920 he marries Lily Rodwell in Leicester and they have a daughter together. Lily passes away in 1939 and in 1940 Frank marries Lilian Plowman.
When WWII was declared Frank sacrificed his business and joined Cardiff Auxiliary Fire Service (A.F.S.) and became Divisional Commander of the Cardiff A.F.S. He was killed in Newport Road whilst on duty on 3rd March, 1941. That was a heavy night of fire bombing in Cardiff. It was the night Roath Road Wesleyan church on Newport Road, at the junction of City Road, was destroyed. There was also damage on Newport Road to the nurse’s hostel and further east along Newport Road at the junction of Albany Road. I had assumed he was killed in one of these events so it came as a shock when I later discovered he was killed when the car he was driving whilst on duty was damaged by a bomb. It is reported that after fighting five fires he was motoring to get more hose when the high explosive bomb killed him. He was 53 years of age at the time and living at 153 Cyncoed Road. He is buried at Cathays Cemetery, Plot: M 948a.
As a slight aside, he may also have been killed if he had still been living in Agincourt Road as it was on that night that residents of numbers 10 and 12 Agincourt Road were killed and the night that neighbouring Marborough Road School was damaged beyond repair.
What an interesting story and a tragic end to his life. Keen rugby fan that I am with a strong interest in the history of Cardiff rugby I have to admit I had never heard of him. I shall consult my books.
I can provide details of two Roath men who fell in WWI: my uncles James Rockey, who lies in a military cemetery in Kenya, and Hubert Merchant, who died at Pilckem Ridge in 1917 and is commemorated on the Menin Gate. I’ve put a piece about James in the St Edward’s church memorial book, and he is also commemorated on the Cardiff Railway Company’s roll of honour in the Pierhead Building.
Thanks. I will be happy to add them in.
Thanks Ted. Do you have an email address I can send them to?
Hi. I have emailed you my email address. Cheers. Ted
Here’s another Splott casualty https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/my-tommys-war-an-underage-welsh-brickie-on-the-somme/
Thanks David. Nice blog post as are your others/
I visited the Cardiff fire station in 2018 from Australia. My grandfather John Frederick Thomas was one of the five firemen who died at Pembroke Dock in 1940. The firemen were very gracious and welcoming. I also visited the site at Pembroke Dock where there is a memorial and left flowers at the golf course site. A very emotional time.