“A safe pair of hands” - Sir Tasker Watkins, VC
During World War II, Tasker Watkins and his company crossed booby-trapped cornfields while under heavy machine-gun fire. It was a little different from the rugby he had played for the Glamorgan Wanderers as a young man. In France, carrying the ball was for keeps.
When Lieutenant Watkins found himself the only officer left in the 1/5th Company of the Welch Regiment, he singlehandedly “charged two enemy posts in turn, killing or wounding the occupants with his Sten gun” (Telegraph). Counter-attacked by 50 Germans, he led a bayonet charge that ended enemy action.
Attempting to lead his men back to their battalion, Watkins was “challenged by an enemy post at close range. Ordering his men to scatter, he charged the post with a Bren gun and silenced it. Then he led the remnants of his company back to battalion headquarters”.
His citation for the Victoria Cross recorded that "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".
Reflecting on these events years later, Watkins said, “I'd seen more killing and death in 24 hours - indeed been part of that terrible process - than is right for anybody. From that point onwards I have tried to take a more caring view of my fellow human beings, and that, of course, always includes your opponent, whether it be in war, sport or just life generally."
Married, and the father of a boy and a girl, Watkins read for the Bar after the war and practiced on the Wales and Chester Circuit. He was practical, compassionate, and thoroughly grounded in the common law.
Respected for his common sense and his “unruffled” air, he investigated and ended the unjust treatment of mentally ill patients by staff; designed procedures to expedite the time and costs spent on criminal trials; and helped to establish in a historic appeal case that husbands living with their wives could be convicted of raping them. On his way to becoming the Deputy Chief Justice of England and Lord Justice of Appeal, he “released a fraudster from prison after hearing of the man's gallantry in diving into a fast-flowing river to save a four-year-old girl”.
He retired from the bench in 1993 at 75, and immediately brought his sure hands to the Welsh Rugby Union, which he served as president until 2004. He received many honours, but he never looked for thanks.