Sir Tasker Watkins (1918 – 2007)

Lieutenant Tasker Watkins landed in Normandy a week after D-day in June 1944 and served with the 1st/5th battalion of the Welch regiment. He took part in the harsh battles in Normandy and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his conduct during desperate fighting near Bafour on 16 August, in the course of the crucial battles around Falaise. The citation read:

Lieutenant Watkins’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 Watkins’s company now had only some 30 men left and was counter-attacked 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 Watkins’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. (London Gazette, 31 Oct 1944)

Within a matter of days units of the British Second Army were on the banks of the River Seine and the American Third Army had entered Paris.

In the summer of 1944 the battalion, with the 53rd (Welsh) division, continued with the advance into Belgium and the Netherlands. Watkins was promoted captain, and then acting major. His active service ended when he was badly wounded during the seven-day battle in late October 1944 to liberate the Dutch city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The task had been assigned to the division, an operation later described by the army commander as ‘brilliant’. During treatment for his wounds amputation of a leg had been contemplated but the determination of Watkins, reflected in the conduct of those treating him, prevented it. After his evacuation the award of the Victoria Cross was announced and he was decorated by George VI on 8 March 1945.

After the war, Watkins developed a large and greatly respected law practice in Cardiff before his appointment to the High Court bench (with the customary knighthood) in 1971, first in the newly created Family Division and then, from 1974, in the Queen’s Bench Division. He was appointed deputy chief justice in 1988 and held that post until his retirement in 1993..

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