La Chatté: The lost tale of a double agent….

Article by Richita Bhattacharyya. Edited and Researched by Richita Bhattacharyya.

History is a vast endless ocean, what we have seen or studied is only the surface of it. However, sometimes we sadly overlook a person, who may in their own way have provided great source help or rendered a great service to their nation. Historians, for whatever reason, be it lack of interest or due to the political climate of the period, we ignore said person’s contributions to the society. The story told in this article, unfortunately, will not be one of those charming tales which would make people sigh in wonder and wish they were said personality. This tale has darker and more sinister undertones to it, the main character hardly a heroine in her life. This is a tale of treason and betrayal; it is the life of the double agent La chatté also known as Mathilde Carré.

The beginning of this very controversial character is fairly simple and uneventful as most beginnings are. Madame Carré was born in France, 1908. She studied at Sorbonne University in Paris and got married to Maurice Carré. Her husband unfortunately passed away in the campaign of Italy in the Second World War. Meanwhile, Mathilde like any good citizen helped out in the war effort, by nursing the wounded. It was at this time she got introduced to a life that would later cause her many ‘inconveniences’. The person who had the pleasure of introduction (and later paid for it with his life) was Polish air officer Roman Czerniawski, codenamed Walenty to the Polish and Victor or Armand to the French, and was the leader of the French resistance movement underground, called ‘Interallie’. Mathilde taking the alias Victoire, it seemed, was destined for this job as she soon became the second-in-command in this movement.

Symbol of the French Resistance.

It was at the height of her success that things began to go horribly wrong. By a stroke of bad luck she fell into Nazi hands, and like all spies was given the choice of life and death. Naturally like any human being with self-preservation instincts ingrained in them she chose to live. As soon as she made her decision she immediately got down to work and by December 1941, 100 agents of the Interallie were captured by Nazi forces. As a result, she single-handedly managed to neutralize an entire section of the underground resistance movement in the span of a month.

1942, British MI5 received intelligence regarding the duplicity of one Madame Carré. However, as there was no concrete proof they could still not take full measures. Nevertheless, suspicion ran rampant to the point that one MI5 informer, called Mrs Barton, called her ‘an exceedingly dangerous woman’, in a note. Soon she was questioned and subsequently detained by the British. Despite fighting long and hard for her innocence, her prosecutors were not swayed and she was sentenced to death in 7th January, 1949. Perhaps Lady Luck took pity on her poor circumstances for once and her sentence was commuted from execution to imprisonment. She was released in 1954, and she immediately published a memoir, denying any accusations made against her. In 2007, ‘La Chatté’ passed away in obscurity, in Paris.

HM Aylesbury Prison, where Carre was detained upon capture in Britain.

Her story like many others is as thrilling and exciting as any biography of a king, politician or dictator; however, she unlike the aforementioned many was not destined to carve a name in sands of time. One wonders why such an enigmatic figure whose life was surrounded by a plethora of conspiracies to be ignored in such a manner. True her story does not paint a very positive picture of her character but it brings to light a picture of the shadier side of the Second World War. Hers was not a life of a soldier fighting a glorious and bloody battle in the frontlines but a more subtle battle of life played from the shadows.

It is crucial for historians to look into the lives of these people. We have already lost important and new insights regarding the Second World War because of not focusing on such people. If Madame Carré’s story was heard first-hand and recorded then we would have gained new perspectives of the war and of the underground Polish resistance in France perhaps even be privy to few secrets she must have been aware of during her career as a spy. Indeed by letting her story fall into obscurity we have lost much information which would have been useful in research.

Even more important than loss of research material is the fact that such a resourceful, though not entirely scrupulous, person was forgotten so completely. Even while researching for this article, the internet and the university library came up with scant resources regarding this woman. It is a shame that most of the History, studied today is those areas illuminated by the sun while those in the shadows remain there gathering dust.

Let’s Face the Facts:

  • Walenty the leader of the ‘Interallie’ , whom Mathilde had betrayed to the Nazis was her lover.
  • She also betrayed her best friend codenamed Violette, who was then captures by the Nazis and tortured till she was forced to become a double agent.
  • She was nicknamed ‘La chatté’ because her contemporaries were surprised by the way she kept eluding death and were convinced she had nine lives like a cat.
  • She, like Hitler and many other renowned personages, wrote her memoirs while she was in prison.
  • While in prison, she had written in her diary, ‘What I wanted most was a good meal, a man, and, once more, Mozart’s Requiem’.

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