Grand Masters

Nicolas Bragge outlines highlights of the colourful life of Master Richard Wakeford VC whose photograph is one of many past Masters on show at the Rolls Building.

The Chancery Masters, together with other judiciary, moved to the Rolls Building from the Thomas More Building two years ago; more recently, photographs of past and current Masters have been displayed there for public view. It is hoped that this has been welcomed as a source of interest by those who appear before us.

Any reader who is in the new courts may wish to glance at the old monochrome photographs taken of the respective Masters on their appointments; you will see that for the most part they are middle-aged, or even elderly, gentlemen who are generally conservatively dressed (although there are exceptions where the new “Master” has evidently been tempted into wearing full court dress or even military uniform).

Tales of valour

One of the apparently innocuous Masters on show is a man who, accompanied by his orderly and armed only with a revolver, stormed an enemy position, killing a number of the enemy from the Nazi 1st Parachute Division, and who, later that day, attacked an enemy-occupied house with grenades. The next day he repeated his valour: when attacking a hill feature, his company came under heavy fire but, although wounded in the face and both arms, pressed home the attack; wounded again that day, this time in both legs, he reached his objective and organised what was left of his company. Such was Master Wakeford.

Captain Richard Wakeford of the Hampshire Regiment was 22 years old when he was awarded the highest award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross, for his conduct to which I have briefly referred, on the 13 and 14 May 1944 near Cassino in Italy. There is a fine image of the young Wakeford being awarded the Victoria Cross by King George VI.

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Richard Wakeford’s appointment to judicial office in the Chancery Division as a Master. He was a member of the Civil Judicial Statistics Council, but sadly he only served eight years, dying in office on 27 August 1972. The minutes of the Michaelmas Sittings of the Chancery Masters on 11 October 1972 is a simple record of the affection of his colleagues:

“The death of Wakeford during the Long Vacation was recorded with much regret and great sadness.”

He had attended Westminster School, Trinity College, Cambridge and was articled with Reid Sharman & Co of 36, Bedford Row and later became a partner in that firm and in Layton & Co of Wardrobe Place, Doctors Commons; he was also a Justice of the Peace for the county of Surrey. Apart from judicial and public service, he was a member of the Court of the Haberdashers’ Company.

As I write, I have before me a volume of the Masters’ “Personalia”; it includes a coloured photograph of a happy Master and Mrs Wakeford sitting close together on a sun lounger, evidently somewhere warm and peaceful with shady hibiscus plants above them.

The recommendation for Wakeford’s VC included the following:

“As an example of utter selfless devotion to duty, magnificent leadership, relentless determination and unflinching courage, this officer’s action cannot be surpassed.”

Have a look at the photograph of this Master when you are next in the Rolls Building.

Nicolas Bragge is a Master of the Chancery Division

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