Revealed: Stunning World War Two secret agent is unveiled as Latvian woman

  • 2014-09-17
  • From wire reports, RIGA

Marie Kristine Cilvere posed as a French journalist in order to obtain secret information (photo: Daily Telegraph)

The British National Archives have revealed the identity of stunning Second World War special agent ''Fifi'' as London-born Latvian Marija Kristine Cilvere.

The beautiful blonde was employed to tempt spies from her own side into giving up their secrets, the Daily Telegrpah reports in special article.

The newspaper writes that for decades, the existence of a Second World War secret agent codenamed ''Fifi'' was dismissed as fiction. Security chiefs laughed off stories of a beautiful blonde employed as an ''agent provocatrice'' to tempt British trainee spies into giving away secrets.

Almost 70 years later, ''Fifi’s'' existence has been confirmed and her identity disclosed. She was Marija Kristine Cilvere, hired at 22 by the wartime Special Operations Executive and employed in a role so covert that it was known to only a handful of people.

After retiring from the service, she lived an anonymous life in the Forest of Dean, devoting her time to animal welfare and tending her garden. She died in 2007.

Her extraordinary tale was disclosed in documents released by the National Archive. They describe a young woman with “quite unusual gifts of intelligence, courage and assessment of character”, possessed of "striking" good looks, who was an invaluable asset to Britain’s war effort.

Posing as a French journalist – she was fluent in several European languages - she was tasked with charming young trainees and engaging them in conversation over drinks or dinner, gaining their confidence and extracting information from them. The reports she wrote decided whether the trainees could be trusted on foreign assignments, and for some she was their downfall, the newspaper writes.

One would-be agent from Belgium, well-regarded by his instructors, was dismissed after spending a day in Cilvere's company. “By the evening,” she wrote in one of her meticulous reports, “I had learnt practically all there was to know about him.”

Jonathan Cole, researcher at the National Archives, said: “Fifi was somewhat of a legend of the Special Operations Executive. Until now, her existence and the deployment of her services had been dismissed. “With the release of her file, her identity, impressive skills and the important role she played in Second World War secret operations is now finally revealed.”

Cilvere, who went by her middle name of Kristine, was born in London but grew up in her mother’s native Latvia, where she was privately educated at a German school in Riga.

She studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, and when war broke out was interned at Besancon. She escaped and made her way to the UK, where in 1942 she offered her services “for active work under conditions of danger”, according to her file.
Her role was known to only three people because, in the words of her superior, “the English public was very sensitive to the idea of people snooping”.

Trainee agents were placed on 96-hour undercover assignments around Britain, and Chilver was sent there to test them. Her instructions included where she should bump into them and a brief description. One target in Newcastle was described as having “uneven front teeth, large feet… carrying a Penguin novel”.

The job was far from glamorous: Cilvere noted wryly in one of her reports that her hotel consisted of “plush curtains, fried fish smell and aspidistras”. Despite the serious nature of her work, humor was a feature of her correspondence with superiors. Dispatching her to Wolverhampton, her boss wrote: “A room will be booked for you at the Victoria Hotel, which is the only hotel, and a very bad one at that, in that revolting town.”

After leaving the service, Cilvere lived first in Chelsea, west London, and latterly in Lydney, Gloucestershire, close to the Welsh border. She spent her last decades with her companion, Jean ‘Alex’ Felgate, who died in 2011, the newspaper writes.
Hugo Whatley, current occupier of the house, said: “Alex and Kristine lived here together. I believe they met during the war and that Alex may also have been in the SOE. Their garden was extraordinary. They had so many plants here. It’s run-down a little now but you still find the odd wonderful plant they planted. After what they went through in the war, I think this was a way for them to get away.”

The ''Daily Telegraph'' points out that Cilvere did not forget her Latvian roots and in 2001 set up an animal shelter in Riga - ''Dzivnieku draugs''.

Staff there were amazed to hear of her wartime past and said she had led an intensely private life.

“She was devoted to animal welfare and that was what she spoke about on the few occasions that she came here. She lived in England and rarely visited us. She didn’t have many friends. I think she led a lonely life with just one companion, Alex. She didn’t like to visit public places and told us she lived far out of town,” an employee from the animal shelter told the newspaper.

Cilvere's file is one of more than 3,000 Second World War intelligence records made available online on the British National Archives website.