10 September 2007

Sir Tasker Watkins, the former Deputy Chief Justice of England and Lord Justice of Appeal died aged 88, yesterday, the 9th September 2007. He was awarded a Victoria Cross for his conduct during the North West Campaign of 1944-45 when commanding a company of the 1 / 5th Battalion, Welch Regiment.

Tasker Watkins was born at Nelson, Glamorgan, on the 18th November 1918 and was educated at Pontypridd Grammer School. After the outbreak of the Second World War he served in the ranks from October 1939 until May 1941, when he was granted an emergency commission as a second lieutenant in the Welch Regiment. In 1943 he attended the Advanced Handling and Fieldcraft School at Llanberis, Caernarfornshire, then worked as an instructor in the rifle wing of the school. In June 1944 Watkins was posted to 103 Reinforcement Group in Normandy, joining the 1 / 5th Bn, Welch Regiment in July.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 2 November 1944 ], Barfour, Normandy, France, 16 August 1944, Lieutenant Tasker Watkins, 1st / 5th Bn, The Welch Regiment.

In North-West Europe on the evening, of 16th August 1944, Lieutenant Watkins was commanding a company of the Welch Regiment. The battalion was ordered to attack objectives near the railway at Bafour. Lieutenant Watkin's company had to cross open cornfields in which booby-traps had been set. It was not yet dusk and the company soon came under heavy machine-gun fire from posts in the corn and farther back, and also fire from an 88 mm. gun: many casualties were caused and the advance was slowed up.

Lieutenant Watkins, the only officer left, placed himself at the head of his men and under short range fire charged two posts in succession, personally killing or wounding the occupants with his Sten gun. On reaching his objective he found an anti-tank gun manned by a German soldier: his Sten gun jammed, so he threw it in the German's face and shot him with his pistol before he had time to recover. Lieutenant Watkin's company now had only some 30 men left and was counterattacked by 50 enemy infantry. Lieutenant Watkins directed the fire of his men and then led a bayonet charge, which resulted in the almost complete destruction of the enemy. It was now dusk and orders were given for the battalion to withdraw. These orders were not received by Lieutenant Watkin's company as the wireless set had been destroyed.

They now found themselves alone and surrounded in depleted numbers and in failing light. Lieutenant Watkins decided to rejoin his battalion by passing round the flank of the enemy position through which he had advanced but while passing through the cornfields once more, he was challenged by an enemy post at close range. He ordered his men to scatter and himself charged the post with a Bren gun and silenced it. He then led the remnants of his company back to battalion headquarters.

His superb gallantry and total disregard for his own safety during an extremely difficult period were responsible for saving the lives of his men, and had a decisive influence on the course of the battle.

Tasker Watkins was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on the 8th March 1945.

Demobbed in 1946, Tasker Watkins read for the Bar. He was called by Middle Temple in 1948 and started practising in common law on the Wales and Chester Circuit. After taking Silk in 1965 he moved to chambers at No. 1 Crown Office Row in the Temple. He was knighted in 1971 and was sworn of the Privy Council on his appointment to the Court of Appeal in 1980. He was appointed GBE in 1990.

Following a service of commemoration in Cardiff's Llandaf Cathedral on Saturday, 14th September, Sir Tasker Watkins was cremated in the city's Thornhill Crematorium the following day.

Medal entitlement of Major The Rt Hon Sir Tasker Watkins - 1 / 5th Bn, The Welch Regiment

  • Victoria Cross
  • Knight Grand Cross, Order of the British Empire ( GBE )
  • Knight of Grace, Order of St John of Jerusalem ( KStJ )
  • 1939 - 45 Star
  • France & Germany Star
  • Defence Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • War Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal ( 1977 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal ( 2002 )

VC Deaths

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Iain Stewart, 10 September 2007