Vienna, May 2000
THE IRVING LIBEL ACTION
THE JUDGE IN THE CASE.
HIS name is Charles Gray (right). As a barrister (i.e. the only kind of English lawyer who can plead a case in court), he won Lord Aldington's libel action against Count Tolstoy.
Tolstoy had published a book in which Lord Aldington, then Brigadier Toby Low, was described as responsible for the repatriation of 50,000 Cossacks and 20,000, mostly Slovene, Yugoslavs to certain death by torture at the hands of Tito's partisans, mostly Serbs.
Gray did not deny that Aldington gave the orders which resulted in the horrible death of these people (many of them women and children killed by the British army as they tried to escape when they realised they were being sent back to the tender mercy of the most atrocity-oriented partisans in Europe). Gray did not deny the atrocities (the evidence adduced by Tolstoy was overwhelming), nor did he put any emphasis on the fact that Low was only obeying orders, the repatriation of all eastern Europeans having been agreed by Churchill and Eden at Yalta.
What Gray argued was that Lord Aldington had had absolutely no idea what the fate of these people would be, and could not be held responsible for the way in which the army carried out his orders because he was no longer in Austria at the time when they were carried out. The barrister for tho defence appears not to have pointed out that Aldington could hardly have been unaware of the draconic nature of his orders because the official name of the operation was Keelhaul.
Keelhauling was a disciplinary measure on English ships in the good old days. It meant that a seaman guilty of some crime or misdemeanour could have a loop of a rope attached under his arms, and would then be thrown into the water to be 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.) However, the judge accepted this argument.
Count Tolstoy later found evidence to the effect that Brigadier Low was still in Austria at the time when his orders were carried out, but the appeal judges refused to re-open the case. They let the one-and-three quarter-million-pound fine against Count Tolstoy stand. It bankrupted him, of course.
IT SO happens I have met Charles Gray, now the judge in the Irving libel action against Deborah Lipstadt. It was at my eldest son's flat in Hampstead, north London. My son had met him in the City and told him that Hilaire Belloc's daughter Elizabeth had been my godmother. Gray told him that he himself was related to Belloc.
When we met, I was surprised to find that Gray never mentioned Belloc. So I tested the water, as it were, remarking that I had recently written to the Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, asking for evidence against the slaughter of animals without stunning (as in schechita or halal killing).
Gray became excited and said that the Jews were such a big asset that any banning of slaughter without stunning would be intolerable. This is of course the standard liberal view in Britain, but he was obviously very much a philo-Semite (as appears in his judgement of the Irving libel action).
Now Belloc wasn't a philo-Semite. His view was the common Catholic one of the time, that the poor Jews had a heavy burden of guilt to bear for demanding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Like his fellow Liberals, Belloc opposed the Boer war as part of a Jewish plot to control the mineral riches of the Rand; and as a Liberal member of parliament he also made himself unpopular by referring to the propensity of some English aristocrats (e.g. Lord Roseberry or Lord Marjoribanks, the family which traditionally provided the champion of the sovereign) to marry Jews.
A little later in our conversation he corrected me for not pronouncing vice versa as [vaisi v~:sa]. In fact what I had said was not [vais va:sa], a common mistake, but [vaisa vasa], an alternative pronunciation found in Daniel Jones's English Pronouncing Dictionary. But I did not get a chance to point that out.
The general conversation turned to a London night club which had formerly been a synagogue. Gray made a remark in that connexion which had nothing to do with Jews but which I will not quote because it might be misunderstood.
As the evening wore on, more and more drink was consumed. Gray warmed to me, and asked me to accompany him somewhere or other. We went on foot, and he sang me a song about an Irish bomber called "The Ould Alarum Clock" (alarm clocks being used in the early days as a timer for bombs), and told me a story about a barrister in Reading who was asked by the judge whether his client was aware of the principle of Res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself), to which the barrister replied: "In the Irish village from which my client comes, M'Lud, they speak of little else".
It was an amusing story, but in fact more people in an Irish village probably understood Latin than in an English village, since Latin had been the language of the Catholic Church until Vatican II.
Then he sang The British Grenadiers, in which I was able to join. It struck me at the time that the Grenadiers were more likely than most regiments to be philo-Semitic, because they were the first Allied troops into the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. (The emaciation of the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen was similar to that of the prisoners in Andersonsville PoW camp at the end of the American Civil War, and for the same reason: starvation -- though typhus was also rampant)
Afterwards, I began to wonder whether Gray's reticence on the subject of his relationship to Hilaire Belloc might have something to do with the rumour (which may well be justified) that Belloc's grandfather bore the Jewish name of Bloch, and changed it to Belloc when he became a Christian. That would make Belloc a quarter Jewish (though not a Jew of course, because his mother was Irish, not Jewish). That might explain the extreme depression which clouded Belloc's last years.
The newsletter is published by Godfrey Fortune, the nom de plume of Dr Hugh Dominic Purcell, professor of English at the University of Vienna, Windmühl-Gasse 7/1/19, 1060 Wien, Austria