She was possibly the most badass woman in the history of World War II. One of the most decorated WWII servicewomen, Nancy Wake led 7,000 maquisards - armed resistance fighters - in battles against the Nazis. She rode a bicycle for more than 500 miles through several German checkpoints to replace codes her wireless operator had been forced to destroy in a raid. She even killed an SS sentry with her bare hands - a fatal karate chop - to prevent him from raising an alarm.
Young, slender, and beautiful, Nancy flew under the enemy radar; the Nazis were looking for gun-wielding, burly men like themselves. Little did they know, the brunette bombshell was a fierce Nazi killer. For her ability to evade capture, Nancy was given the code name “White Mouse” by the Gestapo.
At the age 31, she became one of 39 women, and 430 men, recruited into the French Section of the British Special Operations Executive, where she was trained in guerrilla fighting techniques. From April 1944 to the liberation of France, her 7,000 guerrilla fighters fought 22,000 SS soldiers, causing 1,400 casualties, while taking only 100 themselves.
Nancy used her femininity to hide herself from the Gestapo, but she wasn’t afraid to bust out her revolvers and overalls. On the night of April 29th, 1944 she was parachuted into the French region of Auvergne. Upon discovering her tangled in a tree, the captain of the local maquis remarked, "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.”
For her heroic war efforts, she received many honors including the George Medal from Britain; the Resistance Medal, Officer of the Légion d'Honneur and Croix de Guerre with two bronze palms and a silver star from France; and the Medal of Freedom from the United States. New Zealand and her adopted country of Australia were the only allied nations that declined to decorate her after the war. When she was presented with later Australian honors, Nancy "told the government they could stick their medals where the monkey stuck his nuts.” Despite this, she later relented and received the Companion of the Order of Australia in 2004. In April 2006, she was awarded the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association's highest honor, the RSA Badge in Gold.
Nancy Wake’s experience as a member of the French resistance was the basis for a 1987 TV mini-series titled True Colors. Apparently, Nancy didn’t seem to think they did too good of a job. "It was well-acted but in parts it was extremely stupid," she said. "At one stage they had me cooking eggs and bacon to feed the men. For goodness' sake, did the Allies parachute me into France to fry eggs and bacon for the men? There wasn't an egg to be had for love nor money. Even if there had been why would I be frying it? I had men to do that sort of thing."
Nancy was also furious the TV series suggested she had had a love affair with one of her fellow fighters. She said she was too busy killing Nazis for amorous entanglements. But what really kept her from seeking romance was her belief that her husband, Henri Fiocca, was still alive. It wasn’t until she led her men into the Vichy headquarters of pro-Nazi wartime French government that she learned of Henri’s death. He was tortured and executed by the Nazis for refusing to give them any information about Nancy and her whereabouts.
Despite losing her husband and witnessing much bloodshed, she has never had any regrets about her war years. She said, "I hate wars and violence but if they come then I don't see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas."
Nancy Wake died on August 7, 2011 in London after being admitted to the Kingston Hospital for a chest infection. She was approaching her 99th birthday. According to her wishes, Wake’s ashes will be scattered next spring at Montlucon in central France, where she fought alongside all those men in a heroic 1944 attack on the local Gestapo headquarters.
Sources: Washington Post, The Guardian, The Independent
Photo: The Australian