Wake in the mid-1940s
Andrée (French Resistance/SOE Identity)
White Mouse (Gestapo in France)
30 August 1912|
Wellington, New Zealand
7 August 2011 (aged 98)|
Special Operations Executive|
First Aid Nursing Yeomanry
|Years of service||1943–1945 (SOE)|
|Battles/wars||Second World War|
Companion of the Order of Australia|
Officer of the Legion of Honour (France)
Croix de guerre (France)
Medal of Freedom (United States)
RSA Badge in Gold (New Zealand)
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake, AC, GM (30 August 1912 – 7 August 2011) was a secret agent during the Second World War. Living in Marseilles with her French industrialist husband when the war broke out, Wake slowly became enmeshed with French efforts against the Germans, and worked to get people out of France. Later she became a leading figure in the maquis groups of the French Resistance and was one of the Allies' most decorated servicewomen.
After the fall of France in 1940, she became a courier for the French Resistance and later joined the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow. By 1943, Wake was the Gestapo's most wanted person with a 5-million-franc price on her head. It, therefore, became necessary for her to leave France.
After reaching Britain, Wake joined the Special Operations Executive. On March 1, 1944, she parachuted into occupied France near Auvergne, becoming a liaison between London and the local maquis group headed by Captain Henri Tardivat in the Forest of Tronçais. From April 1944 until the liberation of France, her 7,000+ maquisards fought the Germans in many different ways. At one point, being aware of this large group of Maquis, the Germans sent in 22,000 soldiers to wipe them out. However, due to Wake's extraordinary organizing abilities, her Maquisards were able to defeat them causing 1,400 German casualties, while suffering only 100 among themselves.
Early life and education
Born in Roseneath, Wellington, New Zealand, on 30 August 1912, Wake was the youngest of six children. In 1914, her family moved to Australia and settled at North Sydney. Shortly thereafter, her father, Charles Augustus Wake, returned to New Zealand and her mother, Ella Wake (née Rosieur; 1874–1968) raised the children.
In Sydney, Wake attended the North Sydney Household Arts (Home Science) School (see North Sydney Technical High School). At the age of 16, she ran away from home and worked as a nurse. With £200 that she had inherited from an aunt, she journeyed to New York City, then London where she trained herself as a journalist.
In the 1930s, she worked in Paris and later for Hearst newspapers as a European correspondent. She witnessed the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement and "saw roving Nazi gangs randomly beating Jewish men and women in the streets" of Vienna.
Wartime service and Special Operations Executive
In 1937, Wake met wealthy French industrialist Henri Edmond Fiocca (1898–1943), whom she married on 30 November 1939. She was living in Marseille, France when Germany invaded. During the war in France, Wake served as an ambulance driver. After the fall of France in 1940, she became a courier for the French Resistance and later joined the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow. In reference to Wake's ability to elude capture, the Gestapo called her the "White Mouse". The Resistance exercised caution with her missions; her life was in constant danger, with the Gestapo tapping her telephone and intercepting her mail.
In November 1942, Wehrmacht troops occupied the southern part of France after the Allies' Operation Torch had started. This gave the Gestapo unrestricted access to all papers of the Vichy régime and made life more dangerous for Wake. By this time Wake was the Gestapo's most wanted person in the Marseilles area, with a price of 5 million francs on her head. When the network was betrayed that same year she decided to flee France. Her husband, Henri Fiocca, stayed behind. He later was captured, tortured, and executed by the Gestapo because he would not betray her. Wake described her tactics: "A little powder and a little drink on the way, and I'd pass their (German) posts and wink and say, 'Do you want to search me?' God, what a flirtatious little bastard I was."
In the process of getting out of France, Wake was picked up with a whole trainload of people and was arrested in Toulouse,[when?] but was released four days later. A resistance contact, Albert Guérisse, managed to have her let out by claiming she was his mistress and was trying to conceal her infidelity to her husband (all of which was untrue). On her seventh  attempt, she succeeded in crossing the Pyrenees to Spain. Until the war ended, she was unaware of her husband's death, and she subsequently blamed herself for it.
After reaching Britain, Wake joined the Special Operations Executive and was trained by them in several different training programs. Vera Atkins, who was the senior female in the SOE overseeing the agents going into France, recalls her as "a real Australian bombshell. Tremendous vitality, flashing eyes. Everything she did, she did well." Training reports record that she was "a very good and fast shot" and possessed excellent fieldcraft. She was noted to "put the men to shame by her cheerful spirit and strength of character."
On Mar 1 1944, Wake was parachuted into the Auvergne, becoming a liaison between London and the local maquis group headed by Captain Henri Tardivat in the Forest of Tronçais. Upon discovering her tangled in a tree, Captain Tardivat greeted her remarking, "I hope that all the trees in France bear such beautiful fruit this year", to which she replied, "Don't give me that French shit." Her duties included allocating arms and equipment that were parachuted in and minding the group's finances. Wake became instrumental in recruiting more members and making the maquis groups into a formidable force, roughly 7,500 strong. She was also involved in attacks on bridges, railway lines, and German convoys. She participated in a raid that destroyed the Gestapo headquarters in Montluçon, during which 38 Germans were killed. At one point Wake discovered that her men were protecting a girl who was a German spy. They did not have the heart to kill her in cold blood, but when Wake insisted that she would perform the execution, they capitulated.
From March 1944 until the liberation of France, her 7,000+ maquisards fought the Germans by any means they could. Her French companions, especially Henri Tardivat, praised her fighting spirit, amply demonstrated when 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."
On another occasion, to replace codes her wireless operator had been forced to destroy in a German raid, Wake rode a bicycle for more than 300 kilometres (190 mi) through several German checkpoints to get to another group's wireless operator and send a message to London apprising them of the situation. Unfortunately she could not convince the operator that she was with the SOE so she finally searched out the local maquis who did send her message. Wake then had to ride the bike back to where she started, and she did all this in 72 hours. During a German attack on another maquis group, Wake, along with two American officers, took command of a section whose leader had been killed. She directed the use of suppressive fire, which facilitated the withdrawal of the group without further losses.
Immediately after the war, Wake was awarded the George Medal, the United States Medal of Freedom, the Médaille de la Résistance, and thrice, the Croix de Guerre. She learned that the Gestapo had tortured her husband to death in 1943 for refusing to disclose her whereabouts. After the war, 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.
Wake left Australia just after the 1951 election and moved back to England. She worked as an intelligence officer in the department of the assistant chief of air staff at the Air Ministry in Whitehall. She resigned in 1957 after marrying an RAF officer, John Forward, in December of that year. They relocated to Australia in the early 1960s. Maintaining her interest in politics, Wake was endorsed as a Liberal candidate at the 1966 federal election for the Sydney seat of Kingsford Smith. Despite recording a swing of 6.9 per cent against the sitting Labor member Daniel Curtin, Wake was again unsuccessful. Around 1985, Wake and John Forward left Sydney to retire to Port Macquarie.
In 1985, Wake published her autobiography, The White Mouse. The book became a bestseller and has been reprinted many times. Later, after 40 years of marriage, her 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." In 2001, Wake left Australia for the last time and emigrated to London. She became a resident at the Stafford Hotel in St. James' Place, near Piccadilly, formerly a British and American forces club during the war. She had been introduced to her first "bloody good drink" there by the general manager at the time, Louis Burdet. He also had worked for the Resistance in Marseilles. In the mornings she would usually be found in the hotel bar, sipping her first gin and tonic of the day. She was welcomed at the hotel, celebrating her ninetieth birthday there, where the hotel owners absorbed most of the costs of her stay. In 2003, Wake chose to move to the Royal Star and Garter Home for Disabled Ex-Service Men and Women, in Richmond, London, where she remained until her death.
Wake died on Sunday evening 7 August 2011, aged 98, at Kingston Hospital after being admitted with a chest infection. She had requested that her ashes be scattered at Montluçon in central France. Her ashes were scattered near the village of Verneix, which is near Montluçon, on 11 March 2013. Her obituary was included in (and inspired the title for) The Socialite Who Killed A Nazi With Her Bare Hands: And 144 Other Fascinating People Who Died This Year, a collection of New York Times obituaries published in 2012.
Wake was appointed a Chevalier (knight) of the Legion of Honour in 1970 and was promoted to Officer of the Legion of Honour in 1988. Shortly after the war, she was recommended for decorations in Australia but was turned down. Decades later, Australia offered to award her medals but she refused, saying: "The last time there was a suggestion of that I told the government they could stick their medals where the monkey stuck his nuts. The thing is if they gave me a medal now, it wouldn't be love so I don't want anything from them." It was not until February 2004 that Wake was made a Companion of the Order of Australia. In April 2006, she was awarded the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association's highest honour, the RSA Badge in Gold. Wake's medals are on display in the Second World War gallery at the Australian War Memorial Museum in Canberra. On 3 June 2010, a "heritage pylon" paying tribute to Wake was unveiled on Oriental Parade in Wellington, New Zealand, near the place of her birth.
List of honours
|Ribbon||Issuing authority||Description||Date awarded||Notes/citation|
|Commonwealth of Australia||Companion of the Order of Australia||22 February 2004||The award recognises the significant contribution and commitment of Nancy Wake, stemming from her outstanding actions in wartime, in encouraging community appreciation and understanding of the past sacrifices made by Australian men and women in times of conflict, and to a lasting legacy of peace.|
|United Kingdom||George Medal||17 July 1945||FANY: Special operations in France|
|United Kingdom||1939–1945 Star|||
|United Kingdom||France and Germany Star|||
|United Kingdom||Defence Medal|||
|United Kingdom||War Medal 1939–1945|||
|French Republic||Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur||1970|||
|French Republic||Officier de la Légion d'Honneur||1988|||
|French Republic||Croix de Guerre||with two Palms and a Star|
|United States of America||Medal of Freedom||with Bronze Palm. (Only 987 issued with Bronze Palm during WWII)|
|French Republic||Médaille de la Résistance|||
|New Zealand||Badge in Gold||15 November 2006||Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association|
In 1956, Australian author Russell Braddon wrote Nancy Wake: The Story of a Very Brave Woman (ISBN 978 0 7524 5485 6). Nancy Wake wrote her own account (first published 1985) with the original title, "The White Mouse" (The autobiography of the woman the Gestapo called the White Mouse) (ISBN 0725107553). In 2001, Australian author Peter FitzSimons wrote Nancy Wake, A Biography of Our Greatest War Heroine (ISBN 0 7322 6919 9), a bestselling comprehensive biography of Wake. In 2011, German author Michael Jürgs wrote Codename Hélène: Churchills Geheimagentin Nancy Wake und ihr Kampf gegen die Gestapo in Frankreich. (translated: Codename Hélène: Churchill's secret agent Nancy Wake and her fight against the Gestapo in France). The book was published in October 2012. Claims that Sebastian Faulks' 1999 novel Charlotte Gray is based on Wake's war-time exploits, as well as those of Pearl Cornioley, a British secret-service agent have been refuted by the author. Sebastian Faulks said in an interview that "The truth about Charlotte Gray is that she was entirely invented. That's the way good novelists work, … I had not heard of Pearl Cornioley when I wrote Charlotte Gray in 1995 …'. Wake was also featured in a 2012 article in Military Officer. 
An Australian television mini-series was released in 1987 entitled, Nancy Wake, based on the 1956 biography by Russell Braddon. It was released as True Colors in the U.S.. Wake was played by Australian actress Noni Hazlehurst and made a cameo appearance in the role of Madame Fouret. Wake also was made a consultant for the film, but only after the script had been written. She criticised the script upon reading it, and again, at the launch of the mini-series. Wake was disappointed that the film was changed from an 8-hour resistance story to a 4-hour love story. The producers said that they did not have the budget for the longer version and that it was difficult to cover all Wake's exploits in the reduced time frame. Wake also candidly criticized aspects that she felt were not a true depiction of events, and continued for the rest of her life to criticize the script. Similarly, Seasons 1 and 2 of the late 1980s British television series Wish Me Luck were based on her exploits and much of the dialogue was copied from her autobiography. Rachael Blampied portrayed Nancy Wake in the 2014 TVNZ docu-drama, Nancy Wake: The White Mouse.
In 2002, Melissa Beowulf's portrait of Wake was a finalist in the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize. It was later acquired by the National Portrait Gallery. Beowulf chose Wake as a subject to help ensure she received greater recognition within Australia.
- "Online Cenotaph". Auckland War Memorial Museum. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
- "Nancy Wake: SOEs Greatest Héroïne" Braddon, Russell, 1956, Appendix 1, quoted from the citation for her George Medal.
- "Nancy Wake: SOEs Greatest Héroïne" Braddon, Russell, 1956.
- Dennis et al. 1995, p. 626
- FitzSimons, Peter (2002). Nancy Wake A Biography of Our Greatest War Heroine. ISBN 978-0-7322-7456-6.
- "Obituary for Nancy Wake". New York Times. 14 August 2011. p. A18.
- Peter FitzSimons (2001). Nancy Wake, Australia's Greatest War Heroine. Harper Collins Australia. ISBN 0 7322 6919 9.
- "The White Mouse". Archived from the original on 11 August 2010.
- Leech, Graeme (9 August 2011). "Fearless matriarch of resistance". The Australian. News Limited. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
It was perilous work despite her cover as the wife of a respectable businessman. She lived on her sharp wits. "I'd see a German officer on the train or somewhere, sometimes dressed in civvies, but you could pick 'em. So, instead of raising suspicions I'd flirt with them, ask for a light and say my lighter was out of fuel," she recalled. She told how she would get beautifully dressed and hang around making dates with Germans to get information. "A little powder and a little drink on the way, and I'd pass their posts and wink and say, 'Do you want to search me?' God, what a flirtatious little bastard I was."
- Nancy Wake and Harry Potter (Radio). Ireland: Raidió Teilifís Éireann. 9 August 2011.
The story of an extraordinary woman: Nancy Wake, WWII spy, French Resistance leader and saboteur who was determined to 'bugger up' the NAZIs.
- "Nancy Wake: SOEs Greatest Héroïne" Braddon, Russell, 1956, chapter VII. During her sixth attempt she had to crawl out the train window to escape the Gestapo and ended up back in Marseilles until she could try again.
- Stafford, David (8 August 2011). "Nancy Wake obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
- "Nancy Wake". The Daily Telegraph. London. 8 August 2011. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
- "Of Mouse and Men". The Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney. 2 November 1987. p. 8. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
There was also a moment that we don't see, but one that brought a telling moment in the documentary The White Mouse, shown late at night couple of weeks ago by the ABC. In the closing stages of the Resistance war, the Maquis captured a German agent, a girl. They were reluctant to execute her, simply because she was a woman. "If you won't shoot her, I will," Nancy Wake told them. "The men changed their mind. They weren't going to let me carry out my threat." "But they did organise a proper firing squad. I was having my breakfast. The girl had admitted to me that she was a spy and she was very proud of the fact. I had given her some clothes and showed her where to wash. As she passed me on the way to the firing squad, I said 'I'm very sorry we can't keep you, If we had anywhere to put you we would. But, I'm sorry, you are going to be shot.' "As she passed me, she took all her clothes and spat at me, and then she walked naked to the firing squad showing 'Zieg Heil!'. She was a dedicated Nazi. Oh, I'd have shot her. God yes, with the greatest of pleasure."
- "WAKE, Nancy: George Medal". Search Australian Honours. Commonwealth of Australia. 17 July 1945. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- "Maquis Heroine tries Politics". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. 30 March 1949. p. 2. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- "Barton, NSW". Voting by constituency: Legislative election 1949. 10 December 1949. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- "Barton, NSW". Voting by constituency: Legislative election 1951. 28 April 1951. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- "Kingsford-Smith, NSW". Voting by constituency: Legislative election 1966. 26 November 1966. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- Wake, Nancy (1985). The White Mouse. Sun Books. ISBN 0-330-35605-4.
- Fickling, David (23 February 2004). "A belated salute for war heroine". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
- "War heroine Nancy Wake dies". The Daily Telegraph (Sydney). 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
- "The heroics of Nancy Wake saved thousands of lives and played a crucial role in the outcome of the war". The Australian. Australian Associated Press. 8 August 2011. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
One operation included an attack on the local Gestapo headquarters in Montluçon, central France, where she requested her ashes be scattered.
- "War hero Nancy Wake's ashes scattered in France". ABC News. 11 March 2013. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
- "'The Socialite Who Killed A Nazi With Her Bare Hands': The Book We're Talking About". The Huffington Post. 2012-10-12. Retrieved 2017-04-29.
- "Nancy Wake promoted to Officer of the Legion of Honour".
- "Nancy Wake". Fighttimes.com. Retrieved 17 June 2013.
- "Nancy Wake: The White Mouse". Retrieved 25 September 2017.
- "WAKE, Nancy: Companion of the Order of Australia". Search Australian Honours. Commonwealth of Australia. 22 February 2004. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- "RSA History: The Badge". Remembrance. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association. 2011. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- "Nancy Wake presented with Badge in Gold". RSA Review. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association. December 2006. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- "Her only regret: not killing more Nazis". Capitaltimes.co.nz. 27 March 2013. Archived from the original on 2 June 2010. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
- "White Mouse war legend back where she started". The Dominion Post. 4 June 2010. Retrieved 27 October 2011.
- Supplement to the London Gazette, 17 July 1945, p. 3676
- "George Medal : Ensign N G A Wake, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (Special Operations Executive)". AWM Collection. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- "1939–45 Star : Ensign N G A Wake, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (Special Operations Executive)". AWM Collection. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- "France and Germany Star : Ensign N G A Wake, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (Special Operations Executive)". AWM Collection. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- "French Officer of the Legion of Honour : Ensign N G A Wake, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (Special Operations Executive)". AWM Collection. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- "French Croix de Guerre : Ensign N G A Wake, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (Special Operations Executive)". AWM Collection. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- "United States Medal of Freedom : Ensign N G A Wake, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (Special Operations Executive)". AWM Collection. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- OMSA Info on Medal of Freedom Archived 27 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
- "French Medaille de la Resistance : Ensign N G A Wake, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (Special Operations Executive)". AWM Collection. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- Braddon, Russell. Nancy Wake: The Story of a Very Brave Woman. ISBN 978 0 7524 5485 6.
- Bertelsmann, München (2012). Codename Hélène: Churchills Geheimagentin Nancy Wake und ihr Kampf gegen die Gestapo in Frankreich. Blick ins Buch. ISBN 9783570101421. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
- "Australia WWII heroine Nancy 'White Mouse' Wake dies". BBC News Asia-Pacific. British Broadcasting Corporation. 8 August 2011. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- David Pallister (1 April 2008). "Sharpshooter, paratrooper, hero: the woman who set France ablaze". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 27 May 2017.
- Cantrell, Mark. "The white mouse". Military Officer. 10 (3). Arlington, Virginia: Military Officers Association of America. pp. 92–96.
- Lichfield, John (9 August 2011). "Resistance heroine who led 7,000 men against the Nazis". Independent.
- "Nancy Wake: The White Mouse". Television New Zealand. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
- "Moran Prizes - 2002". pandora.nla.gov.au. Archived from the original on 1 May 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
- "Artist shares a portrait of laughter and dress-ups". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2011-08-08. Retrieved 2017-08-29.
- Braddon, Russell. Nancy Wake: The Story of a Very Brave Woman, Quality Book Club, Cassell & Co. Ltd: London, 1956.
- Braddon, Russell. Nancy Wake, Pan Books, London; Sydney, 1958.
- Braddon, Russell. Woman in Arms: The Story of Nancy Wake, Collins, London, 1963.
- Dennis, Peter; Grey, Jeffrey; Morris, Ewan; Prior, Robin (1995), The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-553227-9
- FitzSimons, Peter. Nancy Wake: A Biography of Our Greatest War Heroine, HarperCollins, Pymble, New South Wales, 2002,ISBN 0-00-714401-6.
- Wake, Nancy. Autobiography of the Woman the Gestapo Called the White Mouse, Macmillan: South Melbourne, 1985, ISBN 0-7251-0755-3.
- RTE 1 radio documentary, "Nancy Wake and Harry Potter", first broadcast 9-Aug-2011
- "Son and heir in Labor stronghold", Sydney Morning Herald, 12 October 2006 
- "Finally, Nancy gets her gong", Sydney Morning Herald, 3 March 2004 
- "Her only regret:not killing more Nazis", Capital Times, Wellington, 2 June 2010, accessible at Internet Archive 
- "White Mouse war legend back where she started", The Dominion Post, Wellington, 4 June 2010 
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