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'Superb gallantry' of Sir Tasker
Sir Tasker Watkins and the lord mayor of Cardiff, Freda Selway, in 2006

While Sir Tasker Watkins achieved greatness at 25 with the Victoria Cross, his long life was distinguished by outstanding public service.

Sir Tasker, who has died at 88, was a leading judge, and, satisfied a passion for rugby by becoming president of the Welsh Rugby Union for 11 years.

A miner's son from the south Wales valleys, he was awarded Britain's top military honour in France in 1944.

After the war, he became a barrister and rose to be deputy chief justice.

Tasker Watkins was born in Nelson on 18 November, 1918, a week after the end of World War I.

He 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.

Soon after D-Day in 1944, while still a lieutenant, he became the first Welshman in WWII to be awarded the VC for his leadership in an assault on a German machine-gun post in Normandy.

Sir Tasker Watkins during World War II
I heard about it on the wireless when I was in hospital recovering from wounds and so, as I recollect it all, I turned over and went to sleep
Sir Tasker Watkins on his VC

The citation which accompanied the award said: "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."

With his death, there are only 12 living holders of the VC left worldwide.

But Sir Tasker never talked publicly about his honour and he refused to let the regimental museum in Cardiff display a specially-commissioned painting of the incident, saying it "over-glamorised" his actions.

He said in a radio interview: "I heard about it (the VC) on the wireless when I was in hospital recovering from wounds and so, as I recollect it all, I turned over and went to sleep.

"It's something which has affected my life, obviously. It must be held in high esteem, of course, because it's a relatively rare award."

Posthumous pardon

After leaving the Army as a major, he began studying to be a barrister and was called to the Bar in 1948.

He rapidly made an impression in the courts, becoming a QC in 1965.

In 1966, Sir Tasker was deputy to Sir Elwyn Jones for the official tribunal into the Aberfan disaster, when a coal tip slid onto the south Wales valleys village, killing 144 people, 116 of them children.

In 1971 he became a High Court judge, and was also knighted.

He rose to become a lord justice of appeal in 1980 and was eventually the deputy lord chief justice.

Sir Tasker took the controversial step of supporting a posthumous pardon for Derek Bentley - who was hanged in the 1950s for the murder of a police officer - and whose story was told in the 1991 film Let Him Have It.

Privy councillor

Appointed deputy lieutenant of Glamorgan in 1956, Sir Tasker became an honorary deputy lord lieutenant of Wales in 1979 and of Glamorgan in 1996. He was appointed an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1992.

He was president of the University of Wales College of Medicine for 11 years from 1987 and president of the British Legion, Wales, between 1947 and 1968.

Sir Tasker was made a privy councillor in 1980 and awarded the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) in 1990 and the Knight of St John (KStJ) in 1998.

He was a lifelong rugby supporter. Although a small man, he played outside-half for the Army, Cardiff and Glamorgan Wanderers, of which he was also president.

Later he was to take on the game's top role in Wales. Sir Tasker became the 46th president of the WRU in 1993, at a time when the game was at a low ebb both on and off the field.

He held the post until 2004, making him its second-longest serving president.

In April 2006, he joined an elite list that includes David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela when he was made an honorary freeman of Cardiff.

Sir Tasker's VC is displayed in the Welch Regiment Museum in Cardiff Castle.


SEE ALSO
WRU president steps down
30 Jul 04 |  Welsh
Sir Tasker given freeman honour
12 Apr 06 |  South East Wales

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