Marion De Chastelain | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Marion De Chastelain

Marion De Chastelain, intelligence agent, mother of John De Chastelain, (b 1910, New York, NY; d 1999, Calgary, AB).

Marion De Chastelain, intelligence agent, mother of John De Chastelain, (b 1910, New York, NY; d 1999, Calgary, AB). As an agent for the British government, Marion de Chastelain facilitated the passing of information from the German-controlled Vichy French government to the Allies during WW II. De Chastelain (née Walsh) was the daughter of accountant Jack Walsh, who recognized that a fortune could be made in the lucrative oil fields of Romania after WW I and that a move to Europe would provide an opportunity for upward social mobility. Marion attended the best schools in Switzerland, becoming proficient in seven languages, including Romanian, French and German. She graduated from the Sorbonne with a degree in international law.

Marion Walsh was athletic, reckless and fiercely independent. In 1930, after her graduation, She returned to Romania to find that her ambitions clashed with those of her domineering mother. Mrs. Walsh arranged a marriage to a nobleman for her daughter in 1931, a marriage Marion did not wish but to which she complied and promptly had annulled. Shortly after, she met Alfred Gardyne de Chastelain, known to his friends as Chas, who was born in London, studied industrial engineering and then went straight to the oilfields of Romania.

They were an ideal couple and married in 1933. They lived an affluent, international lifestyle among the elite and powerful of Bucharest. Their first child, Jacquie, was born in 1936 followed in 1937 by John.

With Germany's Nationalist Socialist (Nazi) Party gaining power, the risk to Romania was great. The de Chastelains decided that Marion and the children should go to England. Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and Britain and France declared war on September 3. The disruption of Romanian trade with Britain prompted the British to act on an agreement between the two countries to destroy Romanian oil installations if the country were invaded. Chas was persuaded to accept a secret commission in the British army to lead a program to destroy the oil installations to keep them from the Germans.

De Chastelain took the children to the United States to live with her parents. In New York, she was recruited by William Stephenson (The Man Called Intrepid), the Canadian master spy in charge of counterespionage for the British Security Coordination (BSC). Stephenson had assembled a list of trustworthy people with the potential for intelligence work, and because of Chas's position, Stephenson knew of Marion. He believed women were especially adept at espionage work. He needed a French-speaking woman who could be trusted for a top-secret assignment. De Chastelain suited the job perfectly.

Stephenson assigned her to "run" a spy in Washington named Betty Thorpe Pack, a glamorous and daring woman code-named Cynthia. France, which was run by the Nazi-directed Vichy government, had an embassy in Washington. Cynthia spoke fluent French and was assigned to penetrate the Vichy French embassy. De Chastelain and Cynthia were instrumental in helping Stephenson establish covert co-operative relationships between British and American intelligence agencies.

As the war progressed, de Chastelain continued to run Cynthia in Washington and report to Stephenson. In 1943 she was given an assignment in England dealing with the Balkans. The nature of the job was never revealed. At the end of the war, with Romania in communist hands, the de Chastelains were essentially homeless. They moved to Kensington, England, where Chas unsuccessfully attempted various business ventures. He returned to the oil industry, and in 1954 they moved to Canada and began a new life in Calgary. Marion de Chastelain died there in 1999.

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