"If ever anybody lived to honour their vow, it was Nancy."
By: Legacy Staff
3 years ago
One of the Allies' most decorated servicewomen of World War II, Nancy Wake was a key figure in the French resistance.
Born 30 August 1912 in Wellington, New Zealand, Wake grew up in Sydney, Australia. After leaving home at 16, Wake lived in London and France, working as a nurse and later as a journalist. Wake married a French industrialist and was residing in Marseilles when France fell to Germany.
Wake joined the resistance, serving as a courier, working with the escape network, and later acting as a liaison between London and operatives in France. The Nazis dubbed her the White Mouse because of her ability to avoid capture, and by 1943 she was the Gestapo's most wanted person.
Though Wake evaded capture, her husband did not and was executed by the Nazis.
For her services to the Allies, Wake was honoured by Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, France, and the United States before her death in London, 7 August 2011, at 98. Read on to learn more about Nancy Wake.
"Nancy was a genuine heroine. A woman who, having seen first hand the horrors that the Nazis were inflicting on Jewish people - she saw Jews who had done nothing wrong, tied to a wheel and being whipped - vowed then and there that she would do everything in her power, big or small, to help fight Hitler and his evil party..."
~ Paul Toth, Sydney
"When war broke out she was a young woman married to a wealthy Frenchman living a life of luxury in cosmopolitan Marseilles. She became a saboteur, organiser and Resistance fighter who led an army of 7,000 Maquis troops in guerrilla warfare to sabotage the Nazis. Her story is one of daring, courage and optimism in the face of impossible odds..." Read more
Nancy Wake, who in 1943 was top of the Gestapo's most wanted list, was born in the back room of a dingy weatherboard shack in Wellington, New Zealand, the youngest of six children. It was the stuff of Wake family legend that the Maori midwife who delivered her had pointed out to her mother the thin veil of skin that covered the top of the child's head.
''This is what we call a kahu,'' the midwife said, softly tracing her finger across the fold, ''and it means your baby will always be lucky. Wherever she goes, whatever she does, the gods will look after her.''
With her coiffured hair and red lipstick, Wake was the epitome of glamour, but when she was dropped into occupied France she became a fighting force.
Even without a weapon, she could be deadly. During one raid she reportedly killed an SS guard with her bare hands to prevent him raising the alarm. "She is the most feminine woman I know until the fighting starts. Then she is like five men," one of her French colleagues recalled.
Ms Wake saved thousands of Allied lives by setting up escape routes and sabotaging German installations. Trained as a spy by the British, she led 7000 resistance fighters in D-Day preparations and was on top of the Gestapo's most wanted list.
Called the White Mouse by the Germans because of her ability to evade capture, Ms Wake learned at the end of the war that Fiocca was tortured and killed in 1943.
She married RAF fighter pilot John Forward in 1957 and returned to Australia with him but returned to England to live in 2001, four years after his death.