It’s an age-old question: just what should you say to a beautiful woman? The Special Operations Executive (SOE), Britain’s secret wartime service during the Second World War, tried to make this question even more tricky than usual for its agents-in-training.
‘Fifi’ is a legend of SOE, a symbol of seduction – not surprising, since she’s said to have bedded trainee agents to find out whether they talked in their sleep. 1 Her true identity is not publicly known, though some have tried to guess it. 2 Now, following a review of access to files in the HS 9 series under the Freedom of Information Act, the file for the agent known as ‘Fifi’ has been identified and is publicly available from today. Her name was Marie Christine Chilver (HS 9/307/3).
It would be easy to take the low road and wallow in gossip, but I hope to show that the real Fifi is far more interesting than her legend. Her file gives us a fascinating insight into SOE training and security, and into the character of a remarkable woman, known within SOE as ‘our special agent’.
What ‘Fifi’ did: ‘Provocation’ and Special Operations Executive training
Students would use the skills they learned at SOE’s security training school at Beaulieu to carry out secret training ‘schemes’ all over Britain, right under the noses of the public. The organisers laid traps: interrogation by the local police, or temptation to ‘spill the beans’ to a pretty young lady. Fifi played this part in the schemes. Prudence Willoughby, from SOE security, made necessary arrangements and briefed Fifi on her targets. 3 Continue reading »
- 1. Foot, M.R.D. SOE: An Outline History of the Special Operations Executive, 1940-1946 (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1984), p. 68. ^
- 2. Noreen Riols, once a staff member at Beaulieu, suggested ‘Fifi’ might be a lady named Dorothy – presumably Dorothy Wicken, the commandant’s secretary. See Riols, N. The Secret Ministry of Ag & Fish: My Life in Churchill’s School for Spies (London: Pan MacMillan, 2013), pp. 257-261. ^
- 3. Pattinson, J. Behind Enemy Lines: Gender, Passing and the Special Operations Executive in the Second World War (Manchester University Press, 2007), pp. 71-72. ^