Nancy Wake was born in Wellington New Zealand on August 30, 1912, the youngest of seven children. Two years later her family moved to Sydney Australia, where she would live until the age of 16, when she would run away from home to become a nurse. Even though Nancy was raised in a poor household, she was always independent and fearless and when she was 20 years old she moved to London to study journalism. In the 1930’s Nancy moved to Paris as a freelance journalist.
Fascism quickly swept through Europe after Hitler’s appointment to Chancellor of Germany in January of 1933. Within only a few months Hitler brought all aspects of German society; culture, economy, education, and law, under Nazi control. The party abolished trade unions and removed Jews from government agencies, laws, and cultural life. By March all power of the German Parliament transferred to Hitler. The Fascist regime was total and complete by July of 1933 when there was no political party anywhere in Germany, no law, no conversation, other than that of Hitler’s Nazis.
Nancy traveled extensively through France, writing articles wherever she was assigned and learning the language, geography, and train and bus routes all across the country as a bonus skill set she would fall back on later.
While on assignment in Vienna Austria in 1933, Nancy witnessed first hand some of the atrocities inflicted on the Jews by the Nazi regime. Not only did she see Nazi gangs beating Jewish men and women on the streets, but also “What I saw in Vienna was the SS in the middle of that beautiful city. There was a big wheel in the square and the Jews were tied to that wheel and the SS were whipping them and whipping them and whipping them. I stood there and I though Ohhh, that is dreadful! I couldn’t whip a cat. If ever I can do something one day, I’ll do it.” The Nazi spectacles she saw in Vienna cemented her hatred of the Hitler regime for life.
Nancy went to Marseilles in 1936 where she met Henri Fiocca, a rich industrialist she fell in love with and married. When the Nazis invaded Belgium, the Netherlands, and France in 1940, they could not have known they were backing Nancy Wake into a corner from which she would work tirelessly to defeat the Reich.
Henri and Nancy both wanted to do as much as they could to help the war effort. They stockpiled food goods, fed their friends and neighbors, and Nancy used their own vehicle in volunteering as an ambulance driver. After the prime minister of France resigned on June 16, 1940, a treaty was signed, and by 1942 France was completely occupied by the Nazis. It seemed the war was lost.
Charles de Gaulle’s vision for France was not as an arm of the Reich’s hateful racism. He lead a group known as the French Resistance, a group of war veterans and ordinary French citizens who would commit to destroying the Nazi infrastructure, gather information for the allies, and kill as many Germans as possible. To combat the French Resistance, the French sympathizers to Nazi ideals formed a spy group called the Milice whose purpose was to infiltrate the Resistance and turn the members over to the Gestapo.
Nancy excelled in transporting secret messages, breaking POW’s out of jail, couriering refugees from France into Spain, and organizing safe houses, but when the Nazi network began to close in on Henri and Nancy, they decided it was time for her to leave the country. Henri insisted he stay in Merseilles to keep his business running, but that Nancy should flee. The Gestapo was onto her, cornered her so many times they called her The White Mouse because she always managed to get away. Be it her quick thinking, distracting beauty, or lively personality, The White Mouse frustrated the Gestapo so much that they offered a 5 million franc bounty on her head. Dead or alive.
While awaiting her escape over the Pyrenees, Nancy eluded capture by traveling about from train to train. Her good fortune ran out when a guard recognized her identification as a forgery and she was arrested. They interrogated and beat her for 4 days, but had no idea she was the White Mouse whom they sought so fervently. When Nancy failed to arrive to her rendezvous with Patrick O’Leary, he discovered she was in jail and claimed she was his lover hiding her identity from her husband, and she was released to him. O’Leary was finally able to get her a spot on the Freedom Trail over the Pyrenees and she made her way to England.
Once in England, Nancy wasted no time in joining up with the SOE, the Special Operations Executive, an organization formed to join the factions of the secret anti-Nazi groups known as the Maquis together to make them one coordinated assembly. The group was an imperative component of D-Day operations. In order to be more effective against the Nazis, they could not remain splintered; they had to communicate with one another. Nancy moved to Scotland for her spy training in survival skills, combat, silent killing, weaponry, morse code and radio operation, night parachuting, explosives, sten guns, rifles, pistols, grenades, and disabling a German tank.
With her training complete, In April 1944 Nancy parachuted into France to convince the Maquis to trust the SOE and to coordinate with other clandestine factions. They were not in a hurry to trust a sexy, overdressed, housewife. When Nancy’s radio operator, Dennis, finally arrived, the group requested munitions which were quickly parachuted in. With that flawless execution, they were convinced of Nancy’s abilities and decided they could work together. Nancy was involved with receiving the parachute drops of ammunition, setting up the wireless communications with England, and recruiting and training members of the Resistance.
When Dennis was afraid he was about to be captured by the enemy, he destroyed the radio. He made it back to the group in one piece, but they were now without a radio and unable to communicate with the British to get help, request supplies, or keep them informed of enemy movements. The nearest radio was over 200 kilometers away. It would be impossible to make it by car – there were too many Gestapo checkpoints to pass through. Nancy volunteered to ride her bike to the radio operator, send a message to the British, and ride the bike back. A total of 400 km. The route itself would not be difficult, she’d traveled all over France as a journalist and she knew the roads well. She passed through the checkpoints with ease, as she simply freshened her makeup before approaching the guards and would flirt with them a bit, saying something like, “would you like to search me,” before getting back on her bike and riding off to her “housewife” duties. The pedaling was the hardest part of the mission. When she arrived back to her group, the delivery of a new radio soon followed and the Maquis continued to coordinate their actions and sabotage and kill the Nazi forces.
After the war Nancy Wake was recognized for her courage and awarded many medals. Among them were the U.S. Medal of Freedom, the George Medal from the U.K., the Badge of Gold from New Zealand, the 1939-45 star, the France and Germany Star, the Defense Medal, the British War Medal 1939-45, the French Officer of the Legion of Honor, the French Croix de Guerre, the French Medaille de la Resistance, and the Order of Australia, all of which made her one of the most decorated women of World War 2. Unfortunately, within a year of Nancy’s exodus from France, Henri was captured and tortured by the Gestapo who suspected his wife was the White Mouse. He would not tell them what they wanted to hear and was executed by firing squad. Upon Nancy’s re-entry into France, the news of Henri’s murder greeted her like a bomb shell. She never regretted killing Nazi’s, was never sorry for her lying-espionage actions, but Nancy Wake lamented Henri’s death the rest of her days.
Receive inspiring profiles in your inbox on a regular basis. Subscribe to the Globally Inspired newsletter.
Her silent killing techniques were apparently legendary weren’t they?
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yes, her silent throat chop was very effective. As much as she hated the violence that came with her assignment, she was able to put her own feelings aside to serve the greater good.
Did she take out more than one sentry with that chop? The neutralization of that one sentry is very well documented, not sure there were others.
I think just the one. There was also the rather well discussed kick in the baby maker and the bombings of the Nazi officials during their lunch.
Oooh do tell about the baby maker kick incident:)
At around 3:10 she tells in her own words. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juVSj6qhOJ0