Photo of Nancy Wake’s Forged Identity Card, photographer unknown.
“The White Mouse”
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake
Andrée (French Resistance/SOE Identity)
White Mouse (Gestapo in France)
‘Freedom is the only thing worth living for. While I was doing that work I used to think that it didn’t mater if I died, because without freedom there was no point in living’.
Nancy Wake was born in Wellington, New Zealand on 30 August 1912. She lived and was educated in Sydney. In 1932 Wake married a French businessman, Henri Fiocca. In 1940, she joined the French resistance movement. Between 1940 and 1942 she worked manning the dangerous escape routes through France and helped save the lives of hundreds of Allied Troops.
Code-named the “White Mouse” by the Gestapo, Nancy Wake is one of the most decorated women of the Second World War. She received the George Medal, 1939–45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, British War Medal 1939–45, French Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, French Croix de Guerre with Star and two Palms, US Medal for Freedom with Palm and French Medaille de la Resistance for her courageous endeavours. Wakes’ medals are on display in the Second World War gallery at the Australian War Memorial.
The Gestapo called her “The White Mouse” for the way she deftly avoided their traps. Nancy Wake, 98, died of an infection Aug. 7. 2011, in London, and was one of the most effective and cunning British agents working in German-occupied France during World War II.
A sultry glamour girl before the war, she married a French playboy industrialist whose tastes, like hers, ran to caviar and champagne midmorning and love in the afternoon. They were living in southern France when the war ignited.
She hid downed Allied servicemen at her home and led them over the Pyrenees to the safety of neutral Spain. She later helped organize thousands of French resistance fighters known as the Maquis, by meeting Allied arms drops, distributing weapons and training 7,000 partisans in preparation for the Normandy invasion.
She earned decorations from the British, French and American governments; she was belatedly honored in Australia, where she had grown up. Exact figures are hard to establish, but she was reported to have helped save many hundreds of lives.
Nancy was an ardent warrior, possessed of an endless appetite for sensation.
As her involvement in the war deepened, Ms. Wake was trained by the British to kill with her bare hands (she delivered a fatal karate chop to a sentry at an arms factory), parachute into enemy-held territory and work a machine gun.
She chomped on cigars and bested guerrilla fighters in drinking bouts. She travelled nowhere without her Chanel lipstick, face cream and a favorite red satin cushion.
“She is the most feminine woman I know until the fighting starts — then she is like five men,” a colleague in the French resistance once said.
With her highly motivated force, Ms. Wake planned and executed a successful raid on a Gestapo garrison and an arms factory in central France in 1944.
The Gestapo placed a large bounty on her head. That she evaded capture and death added to her mystique; one-third of the 39 women serving in the British Special Operations Executive in France did not come home.
She was dauntless. When a German counterattack against the Maquis disrupted lines of communication, Ms. Wake covered 200 kilometers by bike over hostile ground to get and receive crucial messages. She slept in haystacks or in the open during her 72-hour journey, which resulted in reestablishing radio contact with London.
The nature of her work made Ms. Wake cautious. Three French women came to her attention for possibly being spies. Under her interrogation, she became satisfied two were telling the truth. She sentenced the third to death by firing squad.
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