09 September 2007

RIP: Sir Tasker Watkins VC

The Rt Hon Sir Tasker Watkins VC GBE QC
18 Nov 1918 - 9 Sep 2007

ZUI this article from The Times:
Sir Tasker Watkins made a unique contribution to the administration of justice as the first Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, 1983-91. A lord Justice of Appeal from 1980 to 1993, he was also Deputy Chief Justice of England, 1988-93.

Yet the distinction for which he will perhaps be best remembered was one he gained before his legal career had even begun. This was the award of the Victoria Cross for his outstanding bravery and leadership during the campaign in Normandy in summer 1944.

He won the decoration for two actions in one evening during the Battle of the Falaise Gap in August 1944. Both demonstrated his total contempt for danger, as well as tactical leadership of the highest order. It was his first encounter with an enemy fighting to contain the Allies’ Normandy landing within the beachhead, before a concentration of armour intended to destroy it.

And this from The Guardian:
In 1980 Sir Tasker Watkins, who has died aged 88, was to become a lord justice of appeal, but in 1944 he became one of two Welsh soldiers to earn the Victoria Cross during second world war. While a lieutenant commanding a company of the Welch Regiment near the Normandy town of Fresnay-le-Vieum on August 16 1944, his battalion was ordered to attack objectives near the railway at Balfour.

His company had to cross booby trapped-cornfields. then as the company came under fire, he placed himself at the head of his men and charged two posts in succession, personally killing or wounding the occupants with his Sten gun. Approaching a German with an anti-tank gun when his Sten jammed, Watkins threw it in the German's face and shot him with his pistol before he had time to recover. With some 30 men left and counter-attacked by 50 Germans, Watkins led a bayonet charge, which resulted in the almost complete destruction of the enemy. In failing light Watkins's company was almost completely surrounded. He decided to rejoin his battalion by passing round the flank of the enemy position through which he had advanced. Challenged by an enemy post at close range, he ordered his men to scatter, charged the post with his Bren - and silenced it. He then led his survivors back to headquarters. He rarely spoke of the incident. On one occasion he told his questioner, "I just got so totally bloody angry".

And this from the BBC:
First Minister Rhodri Morgan said he was "one of the outstanding Welshmen of the 20th Century".

Mr Morgan called him a "unique institution," adding: "I don't think we'll see many more like Tasker Watkins".

Sir Tasker died in the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, in the early hours of Sunday, a few weeks after a fall at his home in the Llandaff area of the city.

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