Nancy Grace Augusta Wake worked in Paris as a journalist leading up to World War II.
She witnessed the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement as a European correspondent for Hearst newspapers.
In 1937, Nancy met wealthy French industrialist Henri Edmond Fiocca, whom she married on November 30, 1939.
The couple were living in Marseille when Germany invaded France.
Nancy decided to become a courier for the French Resistance and later joined the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow.
The Resistance had to be very careful with her missions; as Nancy’s life was in constant danger, with the Gestapo tapping her phone and intercepting her mail.
In reference to her ability to elude capture, the Gestapo began calling Nancy Wake the White Mouse.
By 1943, Nancy was the Gestapo’s most wanted person, with a 5 million-franc price on her head.
When the Resistance became compromised later that same year, she decided to flee Marseille. Her husband, Henri Fiocca, stayed behind; he was later captured, tortured and executed by the Gestapo. Nancy, however, would not learn of his murder until after the war and subsequently blamed herself for his death.
Nancy was eventually arrested in Toulouse, but was released four days later when an acquaintance managed to have her let out by making up stories about her supposed infidelity to her husband.
Finally, she crossed the Pyrenees to Spain and then on to Britain.
Nancy then became a member of the classified British Special Operations Executive. Copies of her training reports record that she was “a very good and fast shot” and possessed excellent fieldcraft.
Return to service in France
On the night of April 29, 1944, Nancy was parachuted back into Auvergne, France as a liaison between London and a local French Resistance group headed by Captain Henri Tardivat.
She was to land in the Forest of Troncais, and when Captain Tardivat finally discovered her, Nancy was tangled in a tree.
Tardivat reportedly greeted her remarking, “I hope that all the trees in France bear such beautiful fruit this year,” to which Nancy replied, “Don’t give me that French shit.”
Nancy helped allocate arms and equipment that were parachuted in, looked after the Resistance group’s finances, and became instrumental in recruiting more members and turning the Resistance into a formidable force of some 7,500 that regularly attacked German installations as well as local Gestapo offices.
At one point, Nancy discovered that her members were protecting a girl who was a German spy. They did not have the heart to kill her in cold blood, but Nancy did. Later, after the war, Nancy admitted she had no regrets about the incident.
On another occasion, Nancy reportedly killed a German SS sentry with her bare hands to prevent him from raising the alarm during a raid.
Much later during a 1990’s television interview, when asked what had happened to the sentry who spotted her, Nancy 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.”
After the liberation of France, Nancy Wake became one of the Allies’ most decorated servicewomen of the war.
Nancy married RAF officer John Forward in December of 1957 and moved to Sydney, Australia.
Around 1985, Nancy published her autobiography titled “The White Mouse” which became a bestseller.
Nancy and John then left Sydney to retire to Port Macquarie, Australia.
Her husband John Forward died at Port Macquarie on August 19, 1997.
In 2001, Nancy left Australia and returned 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.
Nancy had been introduced to her first “bloody good drink” there by the general manager at the time, Louis Burdet. He had also 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 90th birthday there, where the hotel owners absorbed most of the costs of her stay.
In 2003, Nancy 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 on Sunday August 7, 2011 at the age of 98.
She had requested that her ashes be scattered at Montluçon in central France.
Nancy Wake’s ashes were scattered near the village of Verneix, which is near Montlucon, on March 11, 2013.
Now WE know em