Nancy Wake was a journalist turned resistance fighter during the Second World War.
Raised by a poor family in Sydney, Australia, Wake used a small inheritance from an aunt to travel to America and then Europe. By the mid-1930’s she had found work as a journalist and married Henri Fiocca, a wealthy industrialist.
When Germany invaded France in May 1940 she and Fiocca became heavily involved in the French Resistance. The pair were responsible for smuggling thousands of Jewish refugees and Allied servicemen into Spain. Wake often used her looks to get past Nazi checkpoints, later describing herself as “a flirtatious little bastard”.
Wake’s activities caused the Gestapo to declare her their most wanted person, dubbing her ‘the White Mouse’ for her ability to evade capture and placing a 5 million franc reward on her head. However by 1943 Nazi control over Vichy France made her work increasingly dangerous and with the collapse of her network she fled to Spain. Fiocca, who she left behind, was tortured to death for refusing to inform on her.
Wake convinced British special agents to train her as a guerilla operative. In April 1944, she parachuted in southern France to link up with Maquis resistance fighters in preparation for the D-Day invasions. She took command of a 7000-strong unit, winning the men’s respect by repeatedly beating them in drinking competitions. Over the next several months her unit fought 22,000 enemy soldiers, causing 1400 casualties in exchange for only 100 of their own. Wake herself was ruthless. She executed a girl who had been spying on the unit, killed an SS sentry with a karate chop to the neck, and on one occasion biked for 70 hours through enemy checkpoints to deliver radio codes to the Allies.
After the war Wake was heavily decorated by Britain, France and the US. During the 1950’s she worked for the British Air Ministry’s intelligence department, where she married again to a former pilot. She died in 2011, aged 98.