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Mathilde Carré: The Second World War’s ‘exceedingly dangerous woman’


In his latest book, David Tremain uses official and previously unpublished MI5 documents to explore the betrayal of France’s Interallié network and the woman who served three masters during the Second World War, but ultimately served herself.

A cat is mercurial: she plays to her own rules, no one else’s. She is independent and does what she pleases, when she wants to, not when others think she should. She owes her loyalty to no one but herself. Then, when the fancy takes her, she is off, returning at her convenience. Female cats also like to be the boss; put two of them together and they will fight for dominance. The spy known as ‘La Chatte’ (the female cat) was much the same. In her lifetime she served three masters, but ultimately was serving herself. A report (undated) written by Patricia McCallum of MI5’s Registry about the woman later known as VICTOIRE begins:

‘On 28.2.42 there arrived in the U.K. a remarkable woman agent: Mathilde Lucie (or Lily) CARRE …’

Remarkable she may have been, but for all the wrong reasons. Like most spies she was temperamental, untrustworthy, scheming, manipulative, jealous, and above all, treacherous.

VICTOIRE, the woman who would become notorious as ‘La Chatte’, was employed by the Interallié network, an organisation working on behalf of the Polish Secret Service in Occupied France. On 18 November 1941, she was arrested by the Abwehr, along with some of the more important members of the organisation. Shortly thereafter, she became one of their most trusted agents and worked for them as a double agent while still operating the Interallié network’s radio. Allegedly, she briefly became the mistress of Feldwebel (Sergeant) Hugo Bleicher, the senior Abwehr NCO who worked against the French Resistance in breaking up Interallié and other networks. While working for the Germans, Mathilde Carré provided them with the names and locations of organisation members still at large, as well as acting as a decoy or as an agente provocatrice, so they could be arrested by the Gestapo. Her motivations for betraying them are complex and will be examined during the course of this book and summed up in the final chapter.

The overall picture that emerges from the ‘Interallié affair’ reveals a tragic set of circumstances caused by a morass of lies, scheming and treachery. This was symptomatic of the many factions struggling to assert themselves against the Nazi occupation of war-torn France, as well as, to some extent, the response by the various British Intelligence agencies and their refusal, in some cases, to acknowledge that a problem existed. This account is my attempt to set the record straight.

The first raid came at the Villa Léandre on the morning of Tuesday 18 November. MAURICE (Włodarczyk) awoke at 5.30 a.m. to the sound of what he thought were gunshots, footsteps on the stairs and shouting. It was the Gestapo. Since WALENTY had not heard the bell ring, the Gestapo must have rung Madame Blavette, the concierge, to let them in. Ironically, he had planned to move yet again and had packed up all his things. In the flat above, MAURICE and GEORGE, who were staying with him, managed to escape over the rooftops. As MAURICE described in a report compiled by M.B. Stokes at the Royal Victoria Patriotic School (RVPS) on 28 May 1942:

GEORGE ran into his room saying that the Germans had broken into ARMAND’s flat and then they could clearly hear commands being given in German. As neither WLODARCZYK nor GEORGE was armed and it was obvious that ARMAND had been trapped, they decided to escape, if possible …

They escaped to Dax in the Landes sub-prefecture of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and crossed the demarcation line at Tartas, eventually making it to the safety of the Unoccupied Zone by way of Montpellier and Marseilles. MAURICE crossed into Spain on the night of 13/14 December and reported to the British consulate in Barcelona on the 15th. From there on 7 January 1942 he was sent to the British embassy in Madrid, where he stayed until 20 February.

WALENTY and VIOLETTE were not so lucky and were arrested. Later MAURICE estimated that there had been up to six Gestapo members making the arrest. This set off a cascade in which almost every member of the network was rounded up. VICTOIRE’s account offers the most details on a day-to-day basis of how this happened which Harmer included in his extensive report … However, she was not the only one involved, as it was noted in Kraus’s MI5 file that:

On the information available it seemed clear that KRAUS was responsible for breaking up the effective VICTOIRE organisation. Previously Madame CARRÉ had been suspected of this, and whilst there was no reason to alter the conclusion reached in her case, there seemed no doubt that KRAUS was also responsible for this effective organisation being betrayed.

VICTOIRE described that fateful Tuesday morning as ‘cold and foggy. Montmartre seemed colder than elsewhere and Paris lay below shrouded in mist.’ Not suspecting anything was amiss, she kept her meeting with MICHEL (Jean Lucien Kieffer) at 10.30 a.m. at the Café Lamarck. When no one turned up she went back to her rooms, where Mireille Lejeune told her that the rue Junot, where the Villa Léandre was located, was being searched. Realising that there was a problem, she went to the old apartment in the rue Cortot to retrieve some incriminating papers, and left instructions with Mireille that she was to destroy all her papers if VICTOIRE failed to return. Always the ‘drama queen’, she claimed that as she passed by the Sacré Coeur she felt as if people were watching and following her: ‘I continued up the street when I suddenly sensed that the men who had been gossiping by the lamp post had started to follow me.’[T]he Gestapo took her first to the Hotel Edouard VII at 39, Avenue de l’Opéra, described as one of the offices of the Gestapo in Paris … Harmer states: ‘It is difficult to assess the exact moment that VICTOIRE’s collaboration with the Germans began.’ From what VICTOIRE related, it was on 19 November at eleven o’clock in the morning.

Extracted from Double Agent Victoire by David Tremain

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