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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

‘I Was The Cat’

During the Second World War there were many brave individuals fighting with the French resistance to combat the invading forces of Nazism. Perhaps one of the most complex characters to emerge was Mathilde Carré, known by friends and enemies alike as ‘The Cat’.

Mathilde-Lucie Belard was born in June 30 (my birthday) in 1908. Dainty, with dark hair and staring green eyes and a broad sensual mouth, she had a succession of boyfriends at the Sorbonne, but, according to her own story, remained a virgin until twenty-three.

She secretly married a schoolteacher, Maurice Carré, and they went to North Africa and taught. Here, at Ain Sefra, she embarked on an affair with an aristocratic Muslim, a friend of her husband. In 1939 Maurice was posted on active service in Syria and left her behind, their marriage over.

She made her way back to France and trained as a nurse. During the French retreat from the invading Germans, she met, nursed and fell in love with a tank corps captain, Jean. She became pregnant, Jean was transferred away and she miscarried, then contemplating suicide in the River Garonne. Instead, she determined to join de Gaulle and fight for France; however, the British consul in Toulouse advised her to remain in France. She met an escaped POW, Polish airman Roman and agreed to join him in German-occupied Paris. This was what her restless and passionate spirit had craved – glamour, adventure and danger.

Meeting with the undercover Deuxieme Bureau agents, she was given elementary training – codes, recognition of German Army and Air Force formations and the use of invisible ink. She spent her evenings in the bar of the luxurious Hotel Ambassadeurs where the American newspapermen made their HQ. She curled up in a big armchair, her black hair bobbing and her long talon-like fingernails nervously scratching the leather side of the chair, just like a cat. Some wit called her ‘The Little Black Cat’, and it stuck, and in the network she was thereafter known as ‘The Cat’. Their espionage network was known as Inter-allie, and at this period it was successful, providing much-needed information to the British. She began wearing her trademark clothing, a black fur coat and a little red hat. Roman’s mistress was recruited into Inter-Allie and her presence seemed to cause tension, though Mathilde vowed she’d never had an affair with Roman.

Two days after the first anniversary of the network’s birth, Mathilde was on her way to her studio when she was picked up by the Abwehr; she was identified by Roman’s mistress. Apparently, the German Command in Paris had suspected a major Allied spy ring operating in the area, due to the precise timing of the RAF attacks.

She spent a night in a cold dank cell and seemed to suffer a complete moral collapse due to the sudden reversal of her fortunes. She was taken to a warm room fed breakfast and informed by Hugo Bleicher, an NCO who later penetrated several clandestine British networks, and arrested Odette. Bleicher told her she was too intelligent and interesting a woman to remain in prison; if she co-operated, he would set free that evening…
 
Over the next few days she systematically betrayed the remaining members of the Inter-allie network. With Bleicher’s aid, she used a captured British radio to get in contact with London, advising them that though she had escaped the network members in Paris were all captured; and she was believed.

Her relationship with Bleicher was not always smooth; on one occasion he teased by asking her what requests she would make if they decided to shoot her. ‘To have a good dinner, to spend the night in bed with a lover, to listen to Mozart’s Requiem, and to be shot while it was being played.’

While she worked with Lucas, one of the first SOE agents dropped into the area, London discovered that she was a double agent. When Lucas suggested that Mathilde go back to London with him, the Abwehr and Bleicher went along with the idea, believing she would be useful to them in the heart of the SOE.
 
An MTB picked up the pair in February 1942. When they docked at Dartmouth, she was taken to a luxury flat in Bayswater Road, where she was to make herself comfortable; the place was ‘lousy with microphones’. She was de-briefed (interrogated), but also escorted to well-known tourist sights, restaurants and even night-clubs!
 
Lucas returned to France, was captured and questioned by Bleicher; as a result, Bleicher was convinced that the Cat still functioned as an Abwehr spy in London. After some harsh mistreatment, Lucas was eventually sent to Colditz POW camp.
 
Mathilde was sent to Aylesbury Prison and Holloway and then in 1945 she was repatriated. In 1949 she was tried in France. Two of her former chiefs in the Deuxieme Bureau spoke up for her, but she was sentenced to death; it was later commuted to life imprisonment. Late in 1954, she was released. In 1959 she published her own account, I Was the Cat (revised 1975). She died in Paris in 1970, aged 62
 
- Some of the above was gleaned from The Real World of Spies by Charles Wighton (1962).
 
Also of interest:
Mathilde Carré, Double Agent by Lauran Paine (1976)
Gordon Young, The Cat With Two Faces (1957)
 
In the late 1950s I saw a French film The Face of the Cat which was a chilling movie of the French Resistance starring Francoise Anoul; I often wondered if the film was inspired by the above Cat.

It’s interesting that David Cornwell chose the penname John le Carré. He was probably aware of Mathilde Carré’s story. Le Carré is French for ‘the square’.
 
Of course my Cat heroine is not a double agent; she’s simply someone obsessed with destroying a company and its CEO: it begins with Catalyst.


 
The first in ‘The Avenging Cat’ series
 
Catalyst, a person that precipitates events.
 
That’s Catherine Vibrissae. Orphan. Chemist. Model. Avenging Cat.
 
She seeks revenge against Loup Malefice, the man responsible for the takeover of her father’s company. An accomplished climber, Cat is not averse to breaking and entering to confound her enemies. During her investigations, she crosses the path of Rick Barnes, a company lawyer, who seems to have his own agenda.
 
Ranging from south of England to the north-east, Wales and Barcelona, Cat’s quest for vengeance is implacable. But with the NCA hot on her tail, can she escape the clutches of sinister Zabala and whip-wielding Profesora Quesada?
 
… and continues with Catacomb (due for release Autumn 2015).

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