Sir Tasker Watkins, VC, GBE (born November 18, 1918� September 9, 2007), was a Welsh recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He is a former Lord Justice of Appeal and deputy Lord Chief Justice, and was President of the Welsh Rugby Union from 1993 to 2004.
The son of a coal miner, Watkins was born in the small town of Nelson, Caerphilly.
Watkins won a scholarship to Pontypridd Boys' Grammar School, and became a teacher in London before joining The Welch Regiment when World War II broke out.
World War II
A lieutenant in the 1/5th battalion, The Welch Regiment, he was one officer in a group in Normandy post D-Day leading an assault on a Wehrmacht machine gun post. After all the other officers were killed in the approach, Watkins continued to lead the group and won his VC for two actions:
- Led a bayonet charge against 50 armed enemy infantry
- Then single-handedly took out the Nazi machine-gun post to ensure the safety of his unit
He was the first Welshman to be awarded a VC during the Second World War. His citation reads:
� On 16 August 1944 at Barfour, Normandy, France, Lieutenant Watkins' company came under murderous machine-gun fire while advancing through corn fields set with booby traps. The only officer left, Lieutenant Watkins led a bayonet charge with his 30 remaining men against 50 enemy infantry, practically wiping them out. Finally, at dusk, separated from the rest of the battalion, he ordered his men to scatter and after he had personally charged and silenced an enemy machine-gun post, he brought them back to safety. His superb leadership not only saved his men, but decisively influenced the course of the battle. �
Wales rugby coach Graham Henry had Watkins' citation pinned up on the wall of the Welsh changing room before Six Nations encounters. Watkins' Victoria Cross is on display in the Welch Regiment Museum located in Cardiff Castle.
Watkins later achieved the rank of major, and on leaving the British Army, entered the legal profession. He was called to the bar in 1948 and became a barrister at the Middle Temple. He became a Queen's Counsel in 1965, and in 1966 served as Counsel (i.e. deputy) to the Attorney-General Sir Elwyn Jones on the tribunal into the Aberfan disaster, representing the families.
Watkins served as deputy chairman of Radnorshire Quarter Sessions between 1962 and 1971, and occupied the same position with Carmarthenshire Quarter Sessions from 1966 until 1971. He was Recorder of Merthyr Tydfil between 1968 and 1970 and of Swansea during 1970 and 1971. Watkins was Leader of the Wales and Chester Circuit from 1970-71.
He was knighted in 1971 upon his appointment to the High Court bench, where he sat in the Family Division between 1971 and 1974 and the Queen's Bench Division from 1974 until 1980. He sat as Presiding Judge of the Wales and Chester Circuit between 1975 and 1980 before taking up the appointment as senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales to the Court of Appeal three years later, a post he held for eight years becoming deputy Lord Chief Justice.
Watkins chaired the Mental Health Review Tribunal, Wales Region, between 1960 and 1971 and was also chairman of the Judicial Studies Board during 1979 and 1980. He became a Privy Counsellor in 1980.
Welsh Rugby Union
Watkins played Rugby Union football as an outside-half for the Army, Cardiff RFC and Glamorgan Wanderers. He became president of the Welsh Rugby Union in 1993, overseeing the switch from the amateur era to professionalism and the move from club to regional rugby in Wales. When he stepped down on 26 September 2004 he became the first man since Sir David Rocyn Jones in 1953 to hold office for more than one season, and his eleven years of service made him the second longest serving president in the WRU's 123 year history.
Watkins was appointed an honorary life vice patron of the WRU. On announcement of his death, the Welsh team wore black armbands for their 2007 Rugby World Cup game against Canada in Nantes, France, as a tribute to the former WRU president.
Watkins served as president of the University of Wales College of Medicine for 11 years from 1987, and was president of the British Legion in Wales from 1947 to 1968.
Appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) in 1990 and Knight of Justice of the Order of St John (KStJ) in 1998, in April 2006 he was made a Freeman of the City of Cardiff, with Lord Mayor Freda Salway describing Watkins as "one of Wales' most notable citizens." He was made a member of the Privy Council in 1980.
Watkins married Eirwen Evans in 1941. After falling at his home in Llandaff in August 2007, he was hospitalised at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff. Watkins died at the hospital on 9 September 2007. His funeral was held at Llandaff Cathedral on 15 September, and he was later cremated at Llandaff Crematorium. A memorial service is planned for 1 December.