Sir Geofroy Tory

Daily Telegraph obituary, Oct 2012

Sir Geofroy Tory, who has died 99, was a long serving diplomat who watched Winston Churchill monitor the progress of the Battle of Britain and organised the repatriation to Dublin of the body of a fellow Foreign Office official, the executed traitor Roger Casement. He was also a convinced dowser.

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Sir Geofroy Tory

Tory was ambassador to Ireland when, in the mid-1960s, Harold Wilson’s government was keen to improve relations with Ireland, itself determined to build better economic ties with Britain. In 1965, as a sign of the thaw, Casement’s body was exhumed from the cemetery at Pentonville Prison where it had lain since he was hanged for an attempt to secure Germany’s assistance in the 1916 Easter Rising. When his body was back in Ireland, hundreds of thousands of people filed past the coffin before Casement was given a full state funeral, at which Eamon de Valera, then 82 and in frail health, was one of the mourners.

During negotiations prior to the body’s handover, Tory met Nicolas O’Nuallain, secretary to the department of the Taoiseach, to discuss the potential transfer to Ireland of Casement’s so-called “black diary” in which the former consul to the Congo and Peru allegedly detailed homosexual affairs, rumours of which are thought to have hampered his appeals for clemency. In the event Tory and O’Nuallain noted that the diary’s return would require a debate at Westminster and decided “to let sleeping dogs lie”.

Geofroy William Tory was born on July 31 1912 to William Frank Tory and the former Edith Wreghitt. He was educated at King Edward VII School, Sheffield, where he was captain of cricket, and Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he was an exact contemporary of Donald Maclean, of the Cambridge Spy Ring.

After securing a double First in French and German, Tory joined the Dominions Office, where he was private secretary to the Permanent Under Secretary, Sir Edward Harding; his duties included coordinating the signal traffic throughout the Commonwealth following the Abdication in 1936.

In September 1939 he became a subaltern in command of anti-aircraft batteries protecting London docks, before his Dominions Office cipher experience led him to become a General Staff Officer. Attached to 11 Fighter Group during the Battle of Britain, he was on duty in the Ops room in September 1940 as the fate of the nation hung in the balance. In his diary he recorded Churchill “just through the glass screen from where I was sitting, chin on fists, unmoving, only his eyes turning from the map table to the list of available squadrons, and back again”.

After staff college he was promoted to major and sent as GSO (II) to Shetland, where he was placed in charge of an independent infantry brigade intended to repel any invasion from Norway by the Germans.

In 1944 Tory returned to the Dominions Office. There he was named captain of the Downing Street fire brigade, in charge of a Thornycroft trailer pump and crew of distinguished senior officials, including one ex-colonial governor who had been driven from his post by the enemy. Fortunately the unit was only called to action to clean the windows facing the inside of the Foreign Office quadrangle.

In 1945, when Labour came to power, Tory was appointed PPS to Viscount Addison, Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, before, the following year, being posted to the High Commission in Ottawa as Head of Chancery.

In 1949 he was posted to Dublin as senior secretary in the UK representative’s office. At that time Ireland was fully independent except for a tenuous link with the Crown under the External Relations Act, which was abrogated in 1949. Ireland left the Commonwealth and the representative’s office became an embassy where Tory was appointed counsellor and, subsequently, chargé d’affaires. The IRA had not yet become active in the North, but did throw a grenade into the chancery. Tory was the only casualty – his finger cut by glass.

In 1952 he was selected to attend the Imperial Defence College (now Royal College of Defence Studies) and from there, in 1953, he was posted, as Deputy High Commissioner, to Peshawar, North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan.

In 1954 he was sent as Deputy High Commissioner to Australia, where Lord Carrington was eventually appointed High Commissioner; the two subsequently became great friends. Tory also met Richard Woolley, later Astronomer Royal, who encouraged him to develop an interest in astronomy by showing Tory how to grind parabolic mirrors without any technical apparatus.

In 1957 Tory was posted to Kuala Lumpur as the first High Commissioner in newly independent Malaya. Unfortunately the retiring Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Sir Donald MacGillivray, had also been known as High Commissioner, which proved awkward as Communist insurgents, a significant presence in the jungles of Malaya, did not distinguish between the two roles and placed Tory at the top of their hit list.

Tory established a close relationship with both Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Malayan prime minister, and Lee Kuan Yew, the prime minister of Singapore, and fostered negotiations that culminated in the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.

He was named ambassador to Ireland in 1964, only to find his time there cut short when the Labour government decided that Malta’s period of strategic importance was at an end. All British forces were to leave Malta within 12 months, and in 1967 Tory was posted to the island as High Commissioner to limit the fallout from the garrison’s departure which, in the event, was delayed for five years.

He retired in 1970 and returned to live in Ireland, where he became an avid gardener, beekeeper and dowser. He had chanced upon dowsing while still a diplomat, but later claimed to be able to detect more than merely water. With a map in one hand and a pendulum in the other, he surveyed the coast of Ireland, identifying possible sites of treasure-laden Spanish galleons from the Spanish Armada. He offered his services to the local Garda to find lost bodies, and had at one time several hundred patients whom he dowsed to discover their particular allergies.

He was appointed CMG in 1956, and KCMG in 1958.

Sir Geofroy Tory married, in 1938, Patricia Strickland, with whom he had a daughter and two sons – one of whom was Peter Tory, whose obituary appears below. The marriage was dissolved in 1949 and Geofroy Tory married, secondly, in 1950, Hazel Winfield. She died in 1985, and he is survived by the son and daughter of his first marriage and a stepdaughter from his second.

Sir Geofroy Tory, born July 31 1912, died July 18 2012 [Daily Telegraph obituary, Oct 2012]