Accused of role in sending Cossacks to their death in 1945

 

Lord Aldington, who died on December 7th aged 86, had three distinguished careers - the army, politics and big business. His tragedy was that for more than a decade his life was overshadowed for allegedly being an accomplice to the murder, by Soviet troops and Tito's Yugoslav partisans, of Nazi-aiding Cossacks and anti-Tito Ustachi.

Lord Aldington won £1.5 million damages (plus £500,000 costs) in his 1989 libel action against his accuser Count Nikolai Tolstoy, although the count avoided payment following appeals to 15 courts in Britain and Europe.

Until his run-in with Tolstoy, Lord Aldington could have been judged the most appreciated of Tory establishmentarians, with a near-perfect curriculum vitae. Born Toby Low, he was the son of Col Stuart Low, who died in action in 1942; he sailed through Winchester and New College, Oxford, where he read jurisprudence, and was called to the Bar in 1939.

During the second World War he first served in Greece, where he won the DSO, then in Crete, the western desert and Tunisia. In 1943, he joined the Eighth Army staff for the Sicilian campaign (MBE) and served as a lieutenant colonel in Italy. In 1944, he was appointed brigadier for the final assault y on Austria.

It was these last days, before he returned home to stand for parliament, that saw the messy aftermath of the Yalta Agreement of February 1945, signed by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. It was agreed that those Soviet citizens and Yugoslavs who had fought for the Nazis would be turned over to Soviet troops and Yugoslav partisans in exchange for British prisoners liberated by both.

There were 70,000 Cossacks and Yugoslav Ustachi in the British zone of Austria, where Toby Low was the departing chief-of-staff to Field Marshal Alexander. Under Harold Macmillan's orders Alexander turned over all the Soviets and Yugoslavs, despite his doubts about 11,000 women and children, to a slaughter that began almost immediately.

Having left behind this carefully-shrouded event, Toby Low began his next two careers. He was elected Conservative MP for Blackpool North in June 1945. A year later, he began what was to be a successful business career as a director of Grindlay's Bank.

As soon as Churchill returned to power in 1951, Toby Low became parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Supply, then minister of state at the Board of Trade, and a privy counsellor in 1954. Knighted in 1957, he became Lord Aldington in 1962.

In 1964, he became chairman of Grindlay's Bank, and of GEC. In 1971, he joined the BBC general advisory council, and became chairman of SunAlliance and the Port of London Authority.

It was in the mid-1980s, when Lord Aldington was over 70 and winding down his business career, that lightning struck. He had earlier ignored Tolstoy's books, Victims Of Yalta (1977) and The Minister And The Massacres (1986), which claimed that, back in 1945, Macmillan had wanted to please Stalin by handing over the Cossacks.

What put the fat in the fire was the intervention of the property developer Nigel Watts, who was fighting Sun-Alliance over a disputed insurance claim. Having read The Minister And The Massacres, Watts drew up a leaflet vastly exaggerating the wartime role of Lord Aldington, who had been chairman of SunAlliance.

Ten thousand copies of this leaflet, somewhat toned down by Tolstoy, were circulated to politicians, the press and Lord Aldington's friends. It was so damaging that Lord Aldington had to sue Watts, but Tolstoy insisted on being sued as well.

After the nine-week trial, and Tolstoy's years of prevarication on payment, Lord Aldington tried to end it all by offering to accept £300,000, but Tolstoy insisted of martyrdom.

Toby Austin Richard William Low, Lord Aldington: born 1914; died, December2000