The Welsh rugby international from Grangetown who died at Ypres

By Gwyn Prescott

Over 130 rugby internationals lost their lives in the First World War. Thirteen of them played for Wales and the name of one can be found on the Grangetown War Memorial. Well, that's not strictly correct, as David Westacott's surname is recorded there as "Westercott".

"Dai" Westacott was born on 10 October 1882 in Grangetown. After being introduced to the game at Grange National School he came to prominence in Cardiff and District rugby where he played for various Grangetown teams. In 1903, the promising 20-year-old forward was snapped up by the Cardiff club and he quickly established himself there. He soon became a popular stalwart in the Cardiff pack, and in 1904-5 played in all of Cardiff's 30 fixtures that season. In total, he represented the "Blue and Blacks" 120 times over seven seasons.

Like several of his Cardiff team-mates, Dai was a docker, an occupation which no doubt helped to develop the immense strength for which he was renowned. He had a reputation for being a hard grafter but despite being a powerful forward he was also surprisingly fast and elusive with the ball in his hands. After two years with Cardiff, in 1905 he was invited to play for Glamorgan against the New Zealand tourists. Glamorgan lost 9-0, but this was a somewhat flattering margin for the All Blacks over what was essentially a scratch XV.

Dai played well and it was no surprise when later that season he was picked for Wales against Ireland in Belfast. Perhaps unfortunately for Dai, Wales were expected to win this match.

They had beaten New Zealand earlier that season and were two thirds of their way to a successive Triple Crown, having already despatched England and Scotland.

Unluckily for Wales, however, the weather intervened. The conditions during the journey across the Irish Sea were absolutely atrocious. All the team were laid low with severe seasickness and this seriously affected the Welsh performance on the day. The game was lost 11-6. It seems that Dai was one of several players who, despite the seasickness, were held responsible for the defeat and he was never selected by Wales again. This was a clear injustice to such a gifted and hard-working forward and it is hard to believe that a player of his quality did not deserve more caps.

Remembered: Myrtle Hill with a photograph of her grandfather Dai Westacott

Although Dai was desperately unlucky in his international career, he certainly proved his worth as a club player. He was a regular member of the Cardiff team during one of their most successful periods in their history. In his seven seasons with the club, only 30 fixtures were lost out of the 221 played and he was a regular team-mate of some of rugby's all-time greats like Gwyn Nicholls, Percy Bush, Ben Winfield and Rhys Gabe. One game, however, stands out. This was Cardiff's crushing 24-8 victory over the touring Australians in December 1908. During the match, Dai was badly injured by a serious foul when he was kneed in the groin but, with no substitutes in those days, he won the admiration of the Arms Park crowd by courageously staying on the field, when he might easily have left with honour. And despite his injuries, he even managed to break away spectacularly with the ball to create Cardiff's final try.

Dai retired in 1910, but made his last appearance at the Arms Park three years later when he played in a special charity match organised for the Senghenydd mining disaster relief fund. After the war, his son David maintained the family connection with Cardiff, playing for the club for several seasons.

In August 1914, Dai had been married to Clara Oliver for eight years and the couple were living at 47 Hewell Street where they were bringing up their four children David, Mary, Violet and Ivy. However, despite being a 32-year-old family man, Dai volunteered early in the war. Enlisting in the Gloucestershire Regiment in November 1914, he fought in the blood-soaked battles of Aubers Ridge and Loos in 1915 and the Somme in 1916. Wounded on the Somme in August 1916, Dai then spent several months in Britain recovering from his wounds. He went back out to the Western Front in 1917 and served with the 2/6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment during the Third Battle of Ypres. On 28 August 1917, while in a support trench north-east of Ypres, Private David Westacott was tragically killed by shellfire. Cardiff's sterling international forward had given his life for his country.

The location of his place of burial was subsequently lost, so today he is one of 15 men named on the Grangetown Memorial who are also commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing at Zonnebeke, near Ypres.

Gwyn Prescott, is author of Call Them to Remembrance -The Welsh Rugby Internationals Who Died In The Great War (2014 St. David's Press, £14.99 ) Welsh Academic Press

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