Wednesday, April 3, 2024




1. A belligerent or mean person; a person with an unpleasantly extreme appearance, attitudes, or behavior.

2. A person considered impressive due to courage, skill, and/or toughness.

- Wiktionary


Nancy Wake

Pictured 1945

Wake's intelligence and skill helped her evade capture by the Germans many times. This led to her becoming one of the Gestapo's most wanted people. In fact, Wake's ability to elude capture led to the Gestapo nicknaming her the "White Mouse." It seemed each time they had her cornered and believed she would be captured, she found a way to escape

As WWII’s most decorated woman, Nancy Wake was at the top of the Gestapo's most wanted list. Trained in hand-to-hand combat, espionage, sabotage, and able to drink her male counterparts under the table, she was known as one of the most fearsome resistance fighters of WWII. At one point during the war, she led 7,000 guerilla fighters into a raid of a German gun factory and even killed an SS sentry with her bare hands. One of her comrades described her as “most feminine woman I know, until the fighting starts. Then, she is like five men.”

Some facts:

Nancy Wake, (1912 – 2011) was a nurse and journalist who joined the French Resistance and later the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II, and briefly pursued a post-war career as an intelligence officer in the Air Ministry. The official historian of the SOE, M. R. D. Foot, said that "her irrepressible, infectious, high spirits were a joy to everyone who worked with her". Many stories about her World War II activities come from her autobiography, The White Mouse, and are not verifiable from other sources.

Born in Wellington, New Zealand, Wake grew up in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. By the 1930s, Wake was living in Marseille with her French industrialist husband, Henri Fiocca, when the war broke out. After the fall of France to Nazi Germany in 1940, Wake became a courier for the Pat O'Leary escape network led by Ian Garrow and, later, Albert Guérisse. As a member of an escape network, helping Allied airmen evade capture by the Germans and escape to neutral Spain. In 1943, when the Germans became aware of her, she escaped to Spain and then went to the United Kingdom. Her husband was captured and executed.

Nancy Wake and husband, Henri Edmond Fiocca

After reaching Britain, Wake joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) under the code name "Hélène". In 1944, Wake and British Major John Farmer parachuted into central France. Their mission was to locate and organize groups of resistance fighters. They established places to store arms and ammunition provided by regular parachute drops. Wake and Farmer also established wireless communication with Britain. Their objective was to weaken the German army before the D-Day invasion. There were over 21,000 German troops where they were operating. Initially, they had 3,000 resistance fighters with them, but Wake was able to recruit more than double that number. She led the resistance fighters in guerilla warfare and caused German troops and facilities significant damage. She was able to obtain and distribute weapons to resistance fighters and establish even more radio communication outposts.

One of Wake's missions involved her riding a bicycle over 500 kilometers/300 miles through numerous German checkpoints to replace codes a radio operator had been forced to destroy during a German raid. Without these codes, Wake and the resistance fighters would not be able to obtain orders, weapons, or supplies. She spent over 70 hours cycling through mountainous terrain in order to complete her mission.

The Germans discovered where Wake and her resistance fighters were based and made plans to destroy them. In June of 1944, over 21,000 German troops surrounded the town where they were staying. It was one of the most hard-fought battles Wake had ever experienced; the Germans used aircraft, mobile guns, mortars, and artillery. Eventually, Wake and most of the resistance fighters were able to escape. When it was over, the Germans had lost over 1,350 troops, and the resistance had lost 100 fighters.

Wake claimed that she participated in a raid (not confirmed by other sources) that destroyed the Gestapo headquarters in Montluçon, killing 38 Germans. At one point Wake said she discovered that the men were using three girls as prostitutes and mistreating them. She coerced the maquis to release the women, to whom she provided a wash and new clothes. Nancy Wake set two of the girls free, but she suspected that a third was a German spy. After interrogating and exposing her, Wake ordered the resistance group to shoot the informer. They did not have the heart to kill her in cold blood, but when Wake insisted that she would perform the execution, they capitulated. Nancy Wake claimed that the spy girl spat and stripped naked in front of her before facing the firing squad. Wake showed no regrets for the execution. Wake also said that she killed an SS sentry with her bare hands to prevent him from raising the alarm during a raid. During a 1990s television interview, when asked what had happened to the sentry who spotted her, Wake simply drew her finger across her throat. "They'd taught this judo-chop stuff with the flat of the hand at SOE, and I practised away at it. But this was the only time I used it – whack – and it killed him all right. I was really surprised."

Nancy Wake during covert operations

Wake describing a mission to French Resistance fighters

Immediately after the war, Wake was awarded the George Medal,[34] the United States Medal of Freedom, the Médaille de la Résistance, and thrice, the Croix de Guerre. She worked for the intelligence department at the British Air Ministry, attached to embassies in Paris and Prague.

Wake stood as a Liberal candidate in the 1949 Australian federal election for the Sydney seat of Barton, running against Dr. Herbert Evatt, then deputy prime minister, attorney general, and minister for external affairs in the Ben Chifley Labor government. While Chifley lost government to Robert Menzies, Wake recorded a 13 percent swing against Evatt, with Evatt retaining the seat with 53.2 per cent of the vote on a two-party preferred basis. Wake ran against Evatt again at the 1951 federal election. By this time, Evatt was deputy leader of the opposition. The result was extremely close; however, Evatt retained the seat with a margin of fewer than 250 votes. Evatt slightly increased his margin at subsequent elections before relocating to the safer seat of Hunter by 1958.

In 1985, Wake published her autobiography, The White Mouse. Later, after 40 years of marriage, her second husband John Forward died at Port Macquarie on 19 August 1997. The couple had no children. She sold her medals to fund herself, saying, "There was no point in keeping them, I'll probably go to hell and they'd melt anyway." Her medals are now on display at the Australian War Memorial.

In 2001, Wake left Australia and emigrated to London. Wake died on 7 August 2011, aged 98, at Kingston Hospital after being admitted with a chest infection. Her ashes were scattered in France at her request.

Nancy Wake in her final years.

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