Wilfred Krichefski interview
This interview by Ted Vibert was first published in Jersey Topic magazine in 1965
It was 20 years ago — in November 1945 — that one of Jersey's most able politicians first took his seat in the States Assembly. Senator Wilfred Krichefski, OBE, then a Deputy, was only 29 and had become the youngest person at that time to gain a seat in the House. Now, after his long and distinguished service, he is the second senior member yet still among the ten youngest.
I asked him if it had all been worth it. The problems, the heartaches, the work, the travel, the meetings, the expense, the abuse, the public misunderstandings.
We were talking in the lounge of his lovely home at St Brelade, overlooking the bay, and he pondered the question as we took in the quite magnificent view. "Yes, it has been worth it I have enjoyed serving Jersey because it is the island of my birth. I feel that I have helped to shape its future and played a part in directing its economy".
He readily admits to being a sensitive man and he is constantly upset by criticism from members of the public who accuse him of spoiling ‘their’ island. "I get very angry when I read letters to the press, often from people who have only been here a few years, insisting that my airport policies are ruining 'their' island. If anything that I do is going to have an adverse effect on Jersey then I am doing harm to my island. I was born here — above my father's shop in French Lane."
His father was a remarkable man. He was sent to Jersey by his father in 1890 at the age of 14 with nothing but a stock of silver goods and told to make his way.
Senator Krichefski served in the Forces in the last war and in 1945 returned to Jersey to salvage the remains of the business. It was then that he took an interest in politics and he joined the Progressive Party which was campaigning for a reconstituted States. But he was not considered as a candidate "I was in the second XI" — until someone dropped out almost on the eve of the election. "Almost by accident I found myself thrust forward into the breach. I was elected and have been there ever since".
It was as president of the Essential Commodities Committee in 1947 that his negotiating ability was to become apparent. This was at a time when food rationing was at its height and Jersey was trying to rehabilitate its tourism industry. "I called a meeting of hoteliers to find out their views and then went to England to negotiate with the British Government to enable us to buy food from France. This we were allowed to do — although It was 18 months later before England did".
Within the States he was becoming known as a troubleshooter. In 1950 he led a bitter opposition campaign against the Committee of Agriculture which brought about its downfall. He and Senator Cyril Le Marquand were proposed for president of the Committee and he won it by one vote. He was to stay as president for seven years.
- "I had no knowledge of the agricultural business and I readily admitted it. But I think this is often an advantage for you go into a project with no preconceived ideas".
He feels that his big contribution during his time as president was the encouragement he gave to flower growing, often against strong opposition. Today's pattern of farming has proved him right.
He had his trials and tribulations, too, and the invasion of the island by colorado beetle was typical. Most people have probably forgotten the day when schoolchildren picked up 10,000 beetles off the east coast of Jersey during the potato season. It is with a certain amount of pride, too, that he remembers representing both the Jersey States and looking after the interests of the British Government on the European Plant Protection Organisation's Executive Council — the first time a Jerseyman has ever officially represented the British Government on any similar body.
His next task for Jersey was to come in 1957 when friction between the Tourism Committee and the island's hoteliers had reached crisis level. When the Committee crashed the House asked him to take over Jersey's most vital industry.
He set about the task with typical drive and energy. It was under his guidance that the first ever tourism film was made about the island; and the honeymoon ball was instituted.
Harbours and Airport
After three hectic years he was to move on to head a committee on which he had served since 1945 and for which he had been the chief worker — the Harbours and Airport Committee. Often against bitter and misguided odds he has fought a tense, often lonely and always critical battle to ensure that Jersey's airport remains capable of handling the tourist traffic that daily pours in.
I asked him why he did it — why he bothered about his island so much? Was it because he stood to gain personally? "I think most people believe that States members profit by being in the States. If anyone can point at how I can possibly have profited I would gladly like to know. It costs me a great deal of money to be a States member for if I were to have put the same amount of effort into my business over the past 20 years I would be much better off. Why do I do it? Because I enjoy it. I enjoy the cut and thrust of political life and enjoy the knowledge that I am playing a part in shaping the island's destiny".
A member of the States told me recently: "If Wilfred Krichefski had a surname like Le Sueur or Le Seelleur he would undoubtedly be regarded as one of Jersey's greatest political figures of all time. If we were ever to lose him we would lose a politician of outstanding ability and foresight, a sharp brain, a brilliant negotiator and, above all, a sincere friend".
After 20 years of in-fighting there are no signs that his political energy is on the wane. Which is fortunate for Jersey.