In his political career, he was a noted authority on international affairs and was a veteran of World War I. He became the liaison officer with Polish General Sikorski after the outbreak of World War II. He promoted strong military ties with America before and during the war and was an outspoken advocate for creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
Cazalet was also an amateur athlete and squash champion in Great Britain for many years. He became godfather to actress Elizabeth Taylor after developing a friendship with her family. Traveling back to London from Gibraltar, he was killed in a plane crash at age 46 along with General Sikorski and 15 others.
Early life and education
Victor Cazalet was born in London, at 4 Whitehall Gardens, on 12 December 1896, the second son of William Marshall Cazalet and his wife, Maud. They were a prominent aristocratic English family whose home had once been the residence of former Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel.:2 The family also had a villa at Cimiez, France, where Queen Victoria was sometimes their guest; she also became Victor's godmother.:2
Their family roots were in Languedoc, and after they were driven abroad, part settled in England and others in Russia.:1 Cazalet's father had achieved affluence in business and was heir to his own father's fortune as an industrialist in Russia.:1:174 Cazalet's mother was the daughter of a Scottish baronet, Sir John Heron-Maxwell of Springkell, who when he died had left his family penniless.:2
He was commissioned into the Queen's Own West Kent Yeomanry in 1915 and reached the rank of Captain. After serving in the front line during World War I, Cazalet received the Military Cross for gallantry in 1917. He later took part in the conference leading to Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war. From 1918 to 1919 he was a member of the British staff in Siberia.
From 1924 to 1926 he acted as a private secretary in the parliament where he served under the President of the Board of Trade and later under the Colonial Secretary. He was first elected at the 1924 general election, serving as MP for the Chippenham constituency in Wiltshire until his death.
During the Spanish Civil War, he was a strong supporter of General Franco and the fascists, serving on the 'Friends of National Spain' committee. However, before World War II, he opposed, with Winston Churchill, the appeasement of Adolf Hitler by Neville Chamberlain's government.
Cazalet became the liaison officer with Polish General Władysław Sikorski in 1940. And as a Member of Parliament, he was a member of the Anglo-Polish committee formed in 1941. He visited Russia with Sikorski in 1942. During that same period he was made chairman of the House of Commons committee on refugee problems, and was stationed at the British embassy in Washington.
Promoting military ties with America
Cazalet also termed himself "a booster for America," and had publicly expressed the gratitude of British citizens for the aid that America gave Britain before and after World War II began. In 1940 he wanted Britain to give the U.S. a free port in the West Indies, with all sovereign rights, in order that the U.S. Navy could have a port closer to South America.
He also hoped that the U.S. and British navies would join together after the war so that their navies could "pool their policies and ideas," he said. It was an opinion he expressed going back to the disputes at the 1927 Geneva Naval Conference, and which he continued during the revival of those efforts which led to the London Naval Treaty in 1930. He feared that a failure of Great Britain and the United States to reach an agreement among themselves, regardless of the other countries involved, would lead to a dangerous competition in shipbuilding between their two countries which would seriously jeopardize world peace. "Each country should build the ships it needs without regarding the other navy as a possible enemy," he said.
A year and a half after the war in Europe had begun and after the German bombing of London had continued, Cazalet urged the American government to keep the life line between their countries open. "The victory can be won," he emphasized, "if the stuff gets over." He added that Britain was deeply grateful for the help they had already received from the U.S.
Advocating a Jewish homeland
Cazalet had become chairman of the House of Commons Palestine Committee, where he described the plight of Britain under siege as connected to that of the Jews who were being driven from Europe by the Nazis. During a speech to the committee in May 1941, he explained that they had the same aims:
Both Jews and the British have one thing in common—a faith that their problems will be solved. And that faith has kindled in our hearts a flame no enemy will be able to extinguish. On the treatment of Jews, and of all small minorities, depends the future of mankind.
In Cazalet's opinion, it was in the best interest of the British Empire to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. However, despite the fact that the Jews were also victims of Nazi aggression, they were still not recognized as allies of Great Britain. "England," he said, "may have made many mistakes, but today she represents something above and beyond material possessions."
Although he never knew him, it was Cazalet's grandfather who first inspired his interest in establishing a Jewish state. His grandfather, Edward Cazalet, was an industrialist based in Russia who had written a number of treatises in the 1870s in which he advocated a Jewish homeland. He wrote that "under English protection the Jewish nation, after eighteen hundred years of exile, would have it in their power to return again to their own country.":41 According to Cazalet biographer Robert Rhodes James, Edward Cazalet had seen the pogroms against the Jews in the Russian Empire and their plight made a "profound emotional appeal to him.":174 He also recognized the spiritual aspect:
Why is it that the English, more than any other nation in the world, are interested in the Jews and in their country? I think it is because the Bible is the History of the Jews, and the English and their descendants alone of all the nations of the world read and study the Bible.:40
Victor Cazalet's actual involvement in promoting the Jewish state began with the guidance of Lord Arthur Balfour, however, and Cazalet's friendship with Chaim Weizmann.:174 Cazalet wrote that "Lord Balfour's devotion to the cause of Jewry will be recognized wherever Jews are to be found in this world.":177 Weizmann tried to apply those feelings by championing the idea of creating a separate Jewish army which would support Britain's fight against Germany.:175 In 1942 Cazalet called upon the British government to grant the Jewish Agency's request to create a fighting force of 20,000 Jewish soldiers and a home guard of 50,000 to be made an integral part of the British army. His efforts failed, however.
At a 1941 conference in the U.S. where he was joined by General Sikorski, he advocated forgetting differences and "uniting all forces in an effort to defeat the enemy." He saw the struggle in Palestine as setting an example for the rest of the world. "Although the war has held up our program as far as Palestine is concerned, in God's good time the Jewish State will be established and it will contribute as much happiness and prosperity to the Arab as to the Jew." During a speech in April 1941, Cazalet stated:
Deliverance of the Jews from persecution was as important an issue as any for which we are fighting. The Jewish problem will never be solved anywhere until a national home in Palestine is established...I believe that every unprejudiced Englishman could and should be grateful for the opportunity which his country has been given to fulfill the Scriptures and re-establish the Jewish State in the Holy Land.
On 27 June 1943, a week before he was killed, he had visited Cairo and then Jerusalem, where he met with David Ben-Gurion and others. His last public statements recorded were at that meeting, where he said, "I would gladly give my life for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, as I am ready to give my life for the preservation of the British Empire... Whatever happens, the Jews must have a permanent home.":286
Death and legacy
After serving in the House of Commons for nineteen years, he was considered one of the "most brilliant" of the younger men in the Commons. "His knowledge of central Europe was probably unequaled," wrote the New York Times after his sudden death in 1943, at age 46, when his plane crashed seconds after take off from Gibraltar.
The plane, a B-24 Liberator II LB-30 AL523 was also carrying General Sikorski and fellow Conservative MP Brigadier John Whiteley; Sikorski, Whiteley and everyone else on board (except for first pilot Eduard Prchal)—sixteen in all—died in the crash. The circumstances surrounding the unexplained accident have led to various controversies and allegations of sabotage.:287
Cazalet's family received a flood of tributes, many from unknown admirers and others from notables, including Churchill, Anthony Eden, Eleanor Rathbone, Hugh Dalton and Polish dignitaries.:287 Chaim Weizmann speaking at a memorial ceremony in London, described Cazalet as "one of the few precious friends of the Jewish people in modern times who never was moved from his devotion to the (Zionist) cause." He said that his grave at Gibraltar would become a place of pilgrimage for the Jewish people, while Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, agreed to plant 1,000 trees in Palestine to be named the "Victor Cazalet Grove." A lead article in the New York Herald Tribune read:
There can be few other Englishmen of our time who have touched so many nations and so many individual citizens upon terms of understanding and friendship. What he did for Poland he literally did around the world. Here in America his friends were countless ... it was as an understanding observer and appreciative visitor that Americans held him in affection and will remember him. To that post-war world, which must lean heavily upon men of goodwill if peace and justice are to prevail, Victor Cazalet is a heavy loss.:287
Cazalet, who never married, was a Christian Scientist and a lay preacher at Ninth Church of Christ, Scientist, London. He was a landowner and a wealthy bachelor, whose numerous social and political connections included close friendships with Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden. He was also the amateur squash champion in 1925, 1927, 1929 and 1930, who also played as a member of the English squash team when it won the international trophy after competing against Canada and the United States in 1927.
Cazalet's sister, Thelma Cazalet-Keir, was a noted feminist and also a Conservative MP. She married journalist David Keir in August 1939. Cazalet's brother, Peter, who married P. G. Wodehouse's daughter, Leonora, was a notable racehorse trainer who was British jump racing Champion Trainer three times and trained Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother's racehorses.
Godfather to Elizabeth Taylor
Cazalet, who had a passion for fine art, became a close friend of American art gallery owners Francis Taylor and his wife Sara, parents of Elizabeth, after they had moved from the U.S. to London in 1936. Cazalet let the Taylor family, who were also Christian Scientists, spend their weekends in a separate 16th century cottage on his estate in Kent. He wanted them to think of England as their new home.:13
He gave 4-year-old Elizabeth a horse named Betty as a gift, which she would ride bareback throughout the property. The Taylors asked him to be her godfather, after which he became an important influence during her early life. At one time while Elizabeth suffered the first of many near-fatal illnesses, Elizabeth begged her mother to "please call Victor and ask him to come and sit with me." Cazalet then drove ninety miles through thick fog to be at her side. When he arrived, recalled her mother, "Victor sat on the bed and held Elizabeth in his arms and talked to her about God," and soon after the fever had broken.:14
At a lunch with Churchill in April 1939, Cazalet learned that a war was coming, and was permitted by Churchill to inform others.:24 Cazalet, concerned for the Taylor family's safety, urged Francis to close his art gallery as soon as possible and return with his family to America. Because of the time needed to vacate the gallery, he suggested that Sara and his children should be sent back alone where Francis could later join them. They took his advice and eventually ended up in Los Angeles where he established a new gallery.
As Cazalet was an acquaintance of screen actor DeWolf Hopper and his former wife, Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, he sent a letter of introduction on behalf of Elizabeth to Ms. Hopper, to help 7-year-old Elizabeth become involved in acting. Hopper met with Elizabeth and Sara and offered to help. Months later, Cazalet wrote in his diary for 16 April 1941, "Imagine excitement of Taylors. Elizabeth has a contract for seven years with a big cinema group.":33
- Spoto, Donald. "A Star is Born", The Guardian (London), 11 Feb. 1995 pp. 54-60
- James, Robert Rhodes (1976). Victor Cazalet: a portrait. London: Hamilton. ISBN 0-241-89405-0.
- "Barbra Streisand donating John Singer Sargent painting to LACMA", Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2015
- "Col. Victor A. Cazalet," New York Times, obituary, July 6, 1943
- The other volunteers, BBC News, September 2006
- Spartacus Educational: Appeasement Archived 23 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
- "British Refugee Expert Visits Phil La Follette", Green Bay Press-Gazette (Green Bay, Wisconsin), April 21, 1941 p. 1
- "Marsden Extols Briton's War Work," New York Times, Jan. 27, 1943
- "British M.P. Would give West Indies Port to U.S.", The New York Times, April 23, 1940
- Steiner, Zara S. (2005). The Lights that Failed: European International History 1919–1933, pp. 587-591.
- "Sees Peace at Stake in London Conference", New York Times, Jan. 8, 1930
- "Urges Cooperation in Naval Relations", New York Times, August 4, 1929
- "American Aid Called Essential", Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1941 p. 7
- "Palestine Victory Campaign", The Guardian (London), 29 July 1941 p. 3
- "Palestine Is Held Example of Unity", New York Times, April 29, 1941
- Cazalet, Edward. The Eastern Question: An Address to Working Men, Edward Stanford (London) 1878
- The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, August 14, 1942 p. 1
- "Barkley Praises Palestine Leaders", New York Times, May 1, 1941
- "War Seen Holding Up Jewish State Plan", New York Times, April 17, 1941
- "Dr. Weizmann Mourns Cazalet", The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, July 23, 1943 p. 1
- Christian Science Sentinel, 20 June 1931 issue
- Walker, Alexander. Elizabeth: The Life of Elizabeth Taylor, Grove Press (1990)
- "Thelma Cazalet Engaged: British Conservative M.P. Will be Bride of David Keir, Reporter", New York Times, June 16, 1939
- "The Making of a Goddess", The Observer (London), 23, October 1977 p. 25-26
- Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs
- CricketArchive profile for Victor Cazelet
- Daily Telegraph [London] 23MAR2011.
- Media related to Victor Cazalet at Wikimedia Commons
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Victor Cazalet
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
Alfred James Bonwick
| Member of Parliament for Chippenham
1924 – 1943