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Kent, England, Genealogy Pages Minnie Winifred Bodeker born Faversham 1893

Rt. Hon. Sir, 1st Baron Aldington Toby Austin Richard William LOW
 1914 - 2000

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  • Title  Rt. Hon. Sir, 1st Baron Aldington 
    Birth  25 May 1914 
    Gender  Male 
    Died  7 Dec 2000  [1
    Person ID  I10175  Young Family Kent Ancestry
    Last Modified  10 Oct 2009 00:06:22 
    Father  Stuart LOW 
    Mother  Lucy Gwen ATKIN 
    Family ID  F1174  Group Sheet
    Family  Living 
     1. Living
     2. Living
     3. Living
    Family ID  F3027  Group Sheet
  • Notes 
    • He was the politician and business leader Sir Toby Low, 1st Baron Aldington.

      December 19, 2000
      by Srdja Trifkovic
      Lord Aldington, 86, a former British trade minister and Conservative Party vice chairman who filed one of Britain's most famous libel cases against a man who labeled him a war criminal, died of cancer Dec. 8 at his home in Kent, southern England. In 1989, Lord Aldington was awarded $2.2 million in damages after winning a libel suit against historian Count Nikolai Tolstoy, a distant relative of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, who had written a pamphlet accusing Lord Aldington of war crimes. As a British army officer in Austria at the end of World War II, Lord Aldington — then known by his given name, Toby Low — oversaw the repatriation of thousands of Cossack and Yugoslav refugees. Many were subsequently killed or interned in prison camps. At the libel trial, Lord Aldington agreed that the refugees' fate was "ghastly" but said he had not known that many faced execution if returned to their homelands. (The Washington Post, December 9, 2000)
      An obituary sometimes begs a thousand words. Well worth doing in this case, especially since it's been over a decade since we wrote about Aldington, Tolstoy, and one of the greatest untold tragedies of World War II (cf. "Writing in the Tolstoy Tradition" by Sally Wright, Chronicles, April 1989). This is a story of heinous crimes that went unpunished and establishmentarian conspiracies to cover them up, of miscarriage of justice, of one man's quixotic efforts to tell the truth and another's quiet campaign to keep it suppressed.
      The story starts at Yalta in February 1945, when the return of all Soviet citizens that may find themselves in the Allied zone was demanded by Stalin — and was duly agreed to by Churchill and FDR. Accordingly, hundreds of thousands of Soviet POWs liberated by the Allies were sent back home, regardless of their wishes, and regardless of what Stalin had in store for them. In addition, in May and June 1945 tens of thousands of refugees from Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union — unarmed civilians escaping communism, as well as anticommunist resistance fighters and assorted collaborationists — were rounded up by the British in Austria, and forcibly delivered to Stalin and Tito. Most of them were summarily executed, sometimes within earshot of the British. Forced repatriations were known as Operation Keelhaul — the "last secret" of World War II, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn called it. Men, women, and children were forced into boxcars headed for the Soviet zone in the east, or for Slovenia in the south.
      Non-Soviet and non-Yugoslav citizens and Serbian royalists were supposedly exempt from the deportation order, but key military officials in the British chain of command surreptitiously included them, too. As a result émigré Russians waving French passports and British medals from the World War I were all rounded up and delivered to Stalin.
      There was panic in the camps when the inmates realized what was going on. The British lied to some that they were to be taken to Italy, or some other safe haven; if the subterfuge didn't work they used rifle butts and bayonets as prods. Some refugees committed suicide by sawing their throats with barbed wire. Mothers threw their babies from trains into the river. To its credit one British regiment, the London Irish, refused: they went to war to fight German soldiers, they said, not to club refugee women and children. (Americans proved willing to open the gates of refugee camps and look the other way as the desperate inmates fled.)
      In late June 1945 the original policy of screening the would-be deportees was reinstated, but it was too late: most of them were already dead, or in the depths of the Gulag. The tragedy would have remained little known outside obscure émigré circles were it not for British historian Count Nikolai Tolstoy, who has dedicated his life to exposing the truth and identifying those responsible. This great-grand-nephew of Russia's famous novelist — and heir to the senior line of the family — has written three books on forced repatriations, each more revealing than the previous one, as more suppressed information came to light. In 1977 his Victims of Yalta was published, followed by Stalin's Secret War in 1981, and then his most controversial book, The Minister and the Massacres (1986).
      In his books Tolstoy argued that refugees not covered by the Yalta agreement — émigré Russians and royalist Yugoslavs — were forcibly repatriated because Harold Macmillan, "minister resident" in the Mediterranean and later prime minister, wanted to advance his political career by appeasing Stalin. He persuaded a British general whose 5th Army Corps occupied southern and eastern Austria to ignore a Foreign Office telegram ordering that "any person who is not (repeat not) a Soviet citizen under British law must not (repeat not) be sent back to the Soviet Union unless he expressly desires."
      Enter Lord Aldington, then a politically well-connected 30-year-old brigadier called Toby Low, who was the Fifth Corps chief of staff. He was also an aspiring Tory politician, hopeful of being nominated as a candidate at the forthcoming general election in Britain. Low had no qualms about acting upon Macmillan's suggestions. On May 21, 1945 he issued an order to 5th Corps officers as to how to define Soviet citizenship: "Individual cases will NOT be considered unless particularly pressed ... In all cases of doubt, the individual will be treated as a SOVIET NATIONAL." The émigrés' fate was thus sealed. Tolstoy named Aldington in his last book as the chief executor of the policy of forced repatriation on the ground, the man who went way beyond the call of duty in carrying out Macmillan's instructions, and who did so in contravention of orders.
      The charges were serious, by British standards quite scandalous in fact, but Aldington was reluctant to sue Tolstoy over the book. He did sue one Nigel Watts instead, however, an obscure property developer who distributed a pamphlet — written by Tolstoy — in which Aldington was called a war criminal. The pamphlet included the following statements:
      As was anticipated by virtually everyone concerned, the overwhelming majority of these defenceless people, who reposed implicit trust in British honour, were either massacred in circumstances of unbelievable horror immediately following their handover, or condemned to a lingering death in Communist gaols and forced labour camps. These operations were achieved by a combination of duplicity and brutality without parallel in British history since the Massacre of Glencoe ... The man who issued every order and arranged every detail of the lying and brutality which resulted in these massacres was Brigadier Toby Low, Chief of Staff to General Keightley's 5 Corps, subsequently ennobled by Harold Macmillan as the 1st Baron Aldington ... The evidence is overwhelming that he arranged the perpetration of a major war crime in the full knowledge that the most barbarous and dishonourable aspects of his operations were throughout disapproved and unauthorised by the higher command, and in the full knowledge that a savage fate awaited those he was repatriating ... a major war criminal, whose activities merit comparison with those of the worst butchers of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.
      As the author of the text Tolstoy felt honor-bound to include himself as Watts' co-defendant. At the trial Aldington freely acknowledged signing the repatriation orders, but claimed that there was "no way" he could have known the refugees would be killed: "We were told that international law would be obeyed."
      His mission in Austria accomplished, Brigadier Low returned to England on some unknown date in May 1945 to be selected as the Conservative MP for Blackpool — the beginning of the slow rise that would see him ennobled (by Macmillan!) and ushered into the boardrooms and elite gentlemen's clubs of Britain. The exact date of his return is highly significant: Tolstoy argued that Low did not leave Austria until after the key order on indiscriminate deportations was issued, and therefore it was he who — contrary to the orders issuing from Yalta — was personally responsible for the crime.
      When the trial came it should have been possible, easy even, to prove the order of events and name the man who had issued the orders. The British are efficient administrators, and the Public Record Office should have contained the answer. Some of the relevant documents Tolstoy had copied when he researched his books, but when he went back he found that the old boy network had done its work. All key documents related to the case had been sent to various government ministries — notably to the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence — and duly "misplaced." When Tolstoy's researcher asked for these documents, including reports and signals relating to Aldington, she was told they were "not available." Only after the trial had started was Tolstoy given a photocopy of the most important of the files, but four-fifths of the contents were missing.
      Lord Aldington had no such problem: the files were not only readily available to him, but delivered to his office by government couriers. "Dear George," he wrote to George Younger, the (then) Defence Secretary, on March 8, 1987, "you are a friend who will understand my distress ... if the files can be brought to the Westminster area in a series of bundles, that would be very helpful." "Dear George" duly obliged. Aldington's mind eventually clarified as to the date on which he had finally left Austria — he gave three dates in three interviews — but there were no records by which these could be confirmed.
      Heavily influenced by the trial judge, the jury found against Tolstoy and awarded Lord Aldington astronomic damages — a million and a half pounds sterling — in November 1990. Tolstoy, who declared bankruptcy, was denied the right to appeal. Aware that Tolstoy was penniless after the libel verdict, Britain's High Court ruled that he had no right to appeal unless he came up with almost $200,000 in advance to cover Aldington's legal expenses. The court further denied Tolstoy access to a $1m defense fund that had been set up in his name, and to which Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the late Graham Greene had contributed. The British establishment, and in particular the grandees who were friends of Aldinton — the man on first-name terms with ministers in every Tory government since the war — got the desired verdict. As far as they were concerned, a crank — and a foreign crank at that — had received his well-deserved comeuppance.
      L'affaire Tolstoy proved yet again that British libel laws are flawed. The machinery of the British government seemed to tilt the scales of justice, and the state apparently interfered in a private court case. The Human Rights Court at Strasbourg ruled in a unanimous judgment that the failure to permit an appeal was "unfitting for a democratic society" and "constituted a violation of the applicant's right ... to freedom of expression."
      A recent reminder of the travesty of justice perpetrated under British libel laws concerned two ITN journalists who successfully sued the LM Magazine (see "News & Views," April 20). Free speech was damaged both times, and — in the absence of the First Amendment equivalent — free speech is not so strong in Britain that it can take such damage. But, as Cambridge historian Michael Stenton points out, for as long as the rich have all the legal advantages, the chance of constitutional reform is poor indeed: "When historical truth becomes intensely politicized it is possible to get trapped on the wrong side of the factual fence by sympathies and first impressions. All we can do, and must do, is promise to climb over the fence if the evidence demands it."
      Lord Aldington's remarkable claim that he had had absolutely no idea what the fate of these people would be was a lie. Everyone knew, and Aldington's awareness of the draconic nature of his orders was reflected in the official name of the operation — "Keelhaul." Keelhauling was a disciplinary measure on English ships in the old days: a seaman guilty of some grave offence would have a loop of a rope attached under his arms, to be thrown into the water and dragged all the way from the stern to the bow of the ship before being hauled out again. (This had the advantage that some of the barnacles would be scraped from the ship's bottom, but few survived such treatment.)
      After Tolstoy's trial his Minister and the Massacres was banned from British libraries and universities. Although the British government would like to silence Tolstoy and any reference to forced repatriation, the issue will never go away. Ever the idealist, Tolstoy hopes that sooner or later it will have to come clean and apologize for the crimes of its agents in occupied Central Europe in that awful spring of 1945. He recalls that Prime Minister Tony Blair recently issued an apology on behalf of Britain for the 19th century potato blight in Ireland, "though many historians and members of the public found it hard to envisage in what way that tragedy could be regarded as a direct responsibility of the government of the day, let alone its late 20th century successor." He also points out that the British government "pressed consistently and successfully" for German and Japanese governments to compensate British victims of their wartime atrocities.
      Lord Aldington won his court case thanks to the twisted British libel laws and thanks to the Kafkaesque nature of Britain's power structure, but wherever he is now he may be wondering if it was a victory worth having. That flawed man, disdainful of the suffering of such lesser breeds as Slavs, cynically manipulative and devoid of any capacity for moral distinctions, is beyond human judgment now; but one hopes that a much higher court will take a dim view of his life and times. May his name live in infamy.
  • Sources 
    1. [S105] Obituary, The Telegraph, published London, England, 23 Aug 2001.
      Lord Aldington
      Last Updated: 10:28PM BST 23 Aug 2001
      THE 1st LORD ALDINGTON, who has died aged 86, led an industrious life that brought him high office and honour; yet in later years he had to defend himself against allegations that he had been a war criminal.
      As Toby Low, he been awarded a DSO and had risen to the rank of brigadier during the Second World War. In peacetime he became a Conservative MP, a Government minister, a member of the Privy Council and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. In 1962 he was created an hereditary peer.
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      In the business world he held many appointments and won wide respect. "Lord Aldington - A Man of Distinction" was how The Daily Telegraph described him when he stepped down from the chairmanship of Grindlays Bank in 1976.
      Yet this same man, according to a pamphlet circulated in 1987, had "issued every order and arranged every detail of the lying and brutality" which resulted in the massacre of thousands of Cossacks and anti-Tito Yugoslavs who were handed over to the Red Army and to Tito's partisans in 1945.
      These operations, the pamphlet asserted, "were achieved by a combination of duplicity and brutality without parallel in British history since the massacre of Glencoe". Lord Aldington had acted, it was alleged, in full knowledge of the fate that awaited the prisoners; his behaviour was compared to that of "the worst of the butchers of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia".
      The author of this account was Count Nikolai Tolstoy, whose book The Minister and the Massacres (1986) had previously inculpated Aldington as Harold Macmillan's henchman in sending the Cossacks and Yugoslavs to their deaths. The pamphlet had been distributed by one Nigel Watts - who held Aldington responsible, as chairman of Sun Alliance, for the company's failure to pay out on an accident policy after the death of Watts's brother-in-law in 1975.
      In Nikolai Tolstoy, Watts found an ally. "I wish you luck," Count Tolstoy wrote, "in your struggle against this evil man." In a deliberate attempt to provoke retaliation, Watts sent copies of Tolstoy's pamphlet to politicians, the press, residents of Aldington's village, and to the parents and old boys of Winchester College, of which Aldington was Warden from 1979 to 1987.
      After that, Lord Aldington really had no choice but to sue for libel. No one denied that Churchill and Stalin had agreed at Yalta that Soviet citizens found in the Western zones of occupation should be returned to Russia. Nor was it disputed that 70,000 prisoners of war had been handed over in May 1945 by the British 5 Corps, then in southern Austria.
      About half of the 70,000 delivered into the hands of the Communists were Cossacks (including women and children); the others were Serbs and Croats who had fought against Tito and were now handed over to him.
      Tolstoy contended that Lord Aldington, as Toby Low, Brigadier General Staff 5 Corps in 1945, had made the harshest interpretation of his orders relating to the PoWs. In particular, Tolstoy argued, Low had laid down definitions of Soviet nationals which included Cossacks who had never fought for the Germans but were fleeing from Stalin.
      Tolstoy further urged that Low had disregarded an order from Allied Forces HQ which required dissident Yugoslavs to be evacuated to British camps in Italy. As regards the manner in which he had defined the Cossacks, Aldington pointed out that his ruling had been approved by higher command. And he pointed out that no Cossacks had been handed over to the Russians before May 29, whereas he himself - as he was able to prove by reference to the journal of a fellow brigadier - had returned to England on May 22.
      Furthermore, the order to send the Yugoslavs to Italy had never been received by, or intended to apply to, 5 Corps. Indeed, such orders as 5 Corps were given had specifically instructed them to repatriate "all Yugoslav nationals who have been fighting in uniform with Germans, and their camp followers".
      There was no doubt, as Aldington conceded, that 5 Corps were aware that the Cossacks were going to what Field Marshal Alexander described as "a worse future". But he never imagined that they would be massacred without trial.
      "I didn't know much about Tito," he said, "except that he was our glorious ally." And in fact Tito had ordered that the prisoners should be brought before military courts. The massacres took place because he was not in control of his own troops.
      With hindsight, Aldington accepted that the fate of those handed over was in many cases "appalling". "If I had known that the Cossacks and Yugoslavs were going back to their death," he told the court, "I would have taken steps to make sure it did not happen."
      At the time, though, there was every reason for the British to act promptly in order to "clear the decks". The 25,000 men of 5 Corps who had pushed across the Alps into southern Austria found themselves in a ravaged and chaotic area flooded with nearly half a million refugees and PoWs. To the east was a Soviet army; to the south Tito's partisans were threatening to seize parts of Italy, even to invade Austria.
      From the military point of view it was vital to restore stability as soon as possible; and it was thought that if the British did not return the Soviet prisoners, Stalin might retaliate in the case of British PoWs in camps liberated by the Red Army.
      The overwhelming impression at the end of the libel case was that Aldington, far from being a war criminal, was a tough, efficient, hard-pressed soldier caught up in a terrible situation which neither he nor anyone else properly understood or controlled.
      He won the case in December 1989, clearing his name and receiving a record award of £1.5 million in damages. But there was never any chance that Tolstoy and Watts could pay more than a fraction of this sum. Tolstoy declared himself bankrupt; Watts eventually settled to pay only £10,000.
      Aldington, by contrast, had in old age been blighted by the charges against him, and burdened with legal costs. But he was always tough. "What was it that we were taught when we were young?" he mused in 1992. "That we mustn't feel sorry for ourselves and, if we did, we mustn't show it."
      Toby Austin Richard William Low was born on May 25 1914, the son of Colonel Stuart Low and a grandson of Austin Low, chairman of Grindlays Bank. At Winchester he became head of the commoners, won the maths prize and the steeplechase and rowed for the school.
      He went up to New College, Oxford, where he read Jurisprudence. At a time when many undergraduates were voting not to fight for king and country, Low was commissioned into the Rangers KRRC (TA). By the time war broke out in 1939 he had been called to the Bar by Middle Temple, and had been promoted captain in the Territorials.
      It was in 1941 that Low won his DSO, during the Allied retreat from Greece. Aged 30, having fought in Crete, the Western Desert, Sicily and Italy, he became one of the youngest brigadiers in the Army.
      On one occasion he was captured by the Germans. After five days the British fired on the position where he was held and wounded a German. With three other British officers, Low jumped into an enemy vehicle, stuffed the casualty inside, shouted "Nach Krankhaus" (to the hospital), and drove back to the British lines.
      His exemplary record led to his appointment at 5 Corps. He was awarded an MBE in 1944 and CBE in 1945. The French gave him the Croix de Guerre avec palme; the Americans made him Commander of the Legion of Merit.
      In the General Election of 1945, a landslide victory for Labour, Low won Blackpool North for the Conservatives. When the Conservatives returned to power in 1951, he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply, under Duncan Sandys. Three years later, Winston Churchill promoted him to Minister of State at the Board of Trade and he was sworn of the Privy Council.
      Low had been energetic at the Ministry of Supply. He was doubly so at the Board of Trade, engaging in trade talks across the world. At home he had to face complaints from Lancashire about Indian competition in the textile industry.
      In 1957 he asked Harold Macmillan to exclude him from his list of ministers, pleading his need for a higher salary. On leaving the Government he was appointed KCMG for services to foreign export. Sir Toby Low became a director of Grindlays Bank, and joined the boards of several other companies, among them John Brown, the Clydeside shipbuilders.
      Meanwhile he had developed an excellent rapport with Edward Heath, then the Government's chief whip. In 1959 Mr Heath became Minister of Labour and Low was appointed deputy chairman of the party, in charge of its organisation.
      There were snatched moments of relaxation. A fine golfer, he won the parliamentary trophy four times, as Brigadier Low, Toby Low, Sir Toby Low and Lord Aldington. In 1963 he gave up the deputy chairmanship of the Conservative Party - though he continued as a special assistant under Lord Poole and Iain Macleod - and proceeded to direct his energies to commerce and industry.
      In 1964 he became chairman of GEC, working closely with Arnold Weinstock. He also took on the chairmanship of Grindlays, which acquired the merchant bank Brandts. He brought in the First National Bank of New York and Lloyds Bank as shareholders of Grindlays, and himself joined the board of both those institutions. He presided over the introduction of modern banking methods and initiated a programme of overseas expansion, including the purchase from the Ottoman Bank of its branches outside Turkey.
      As if this were not enough, in 1971 Aldington became chairman of the Port of London Authority, and of the Sun Alliance Assurance Group. In 1974, with Jack Jones, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, he produced a report which aimed to restore order to the London docks.
      In 1975 Brandts, Grindlays' subsidiary, had to write off £14 million as a result of property losses, and it took a rescue operation by Citibank to save the bank from failure. Aldington stepped down as chairman, severing a family link with Grindlays that went back to 1845.
      But his thirst for work was unslaked and he remained in demand. In 1977 he was appointed chairman of Westland, and he stayed at GEC until 1984 and at Sun Alliance until 1985.
      In addition, Aldington became chairman of the committee of management at the Institute of Neurology, of the BBC General Advisory Council, of the Independent Schools Joint Council, of the Kent Foundation, of the Brain Research Trust and of the trust that runs Leeds Castle. He was a Deputy Lieutenant for Kent, held the TD and clasp, and in 1999 was one of some 19 hereditary peers to receive life peerages.
      The struggle with Nikolai Tolstoy ground on even after the end of the court case in 1989. Every time Tolstoy lost an appeal he simply launched another one, and in 1994 the European Court pronounced that the £1.5 million damages awarded constituted a violation of his right of freedom of expression. Aldington, meanwhile, was left to pay back the substantial sum he had borrowed from Sun Alliance in order to bring the libel case.
      Lord Aldington married, in 1947, Araminta Bowman (nee MacMichael), daughter of Sir Harold MacMichael, High Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief for Palestine in the Second World War. They had two daughters and a son, Charles Harold Stuart Low, who was born in 1948 and succeeds to the hereditary peerage.


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