Remembering Nancy Wake: She became one of the Allies' most decorated servicewomen of the war

Throughout history women have often been considered the weaker sex. There are plenty of examples that quash this opinion though, and none more so than the fascinating life story of British agent and French resistance fighter, Nancy Wake, aka ‘the White Mouse’.

Nancy Wake 1945
Nancy Wake 1945 - Wiki public domain image

Nancy Wake was the most decorated woman of the Second World War and by 1943 — she was the Gestapo's most wanted person with a 5 million-franc price tag and lived most of her life on the edge and in constant danger and her story is one of sheer bravery, strength and defiance. Before war broke out she was living a life of luxury in Marseilles, married to a wealthy Frenchman, Henri Fiocca. After the fall of France in 1940, Nancy's life changed and she became a saboteur, organiser and French resistance fighter. She led an army of Maquis troops in guerrilla warfare to sabotage the Nazis and from April 1944 until the liberation of France, her Maquisards fought 22,000 SS soldiers, causing 1,400 casualties, while taking only 100 themselves. When she arrived in Britain she joined the Special Operations Executive, and at the age of 31, she became one of 39 women, and 430 men, recruited into the French Section of the British Special Operations Executive and parachuted back into France in April 1944. She led 7,000 guerrilla fighters in battles against the Nazis in the northern Auvergne, just before the D-Day landings in 1944. Nancy recalled later in life that her parachute had snagged in a tree. The French resistance fighter who freed her said he wished all trees bore "such beautiful fruit". She retorted: "Don't give me that French s***." What a woman. No stranger to violence or physically demanding work, Nancy, trained in guerrilla fighting techniques, and on one occasion strangled an SS sentry with her bare hands. On another, she cycled 500 miles to replace lost codes. In June 1944, she led her fighters in an attack on the Gestapo headquarters at Montlucon in central France. It's not surprising to hear that her story has inspired many authors and filmmakers. Not that she was ever that pleased with how her wartime efforts were portrayed, including a TV mini-series made in 1987. The production for added romance had suggested that she had had a love affair with one of her fellow fighters but Nancy apparently furious at this suggestion said she was: “too busy killing Nazis for amorous entanglements.” "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." After the war, Nancy was awarded the George Medal, the United States Medal of Freedom, the Médaille de la Résistance, and thrice the Croix de Guerre and after the war, she worked for the Intelligence Department at the British Air Ministry attached to embassies in Paris and Prague. She died in London just before her 99th birthday on 7 August 2011, was a New Zealander and brought up in Australia. Codenamed the ‘White Mouse’ by the Germans because of her ability to elude capture, Nancy used her femininity tactically but refused to let that stop her doing anything... Nowadays scantily clad popstars and 'celebrities' from reality TV shows seem to be the subject of the media spotlight, and it is hard to find many unique characters that stand out with bags of personality, inner strength and lashings of courage. For me however, working in the realms of military history and genealogy, I'm very lucky to be exposed to various war heroes/heroines and acts of bravery regularly and the story involving feisty British agent and French resistance leader, Nancy Wake was one I wanted to share... Source: Wiki & Independent

Is there a war hero in your family? Do you know enough about your military ancestors? Visit Forces War Records and find out more  - there could be a war hero in your family just waiting to be discovered, and remembered… Delve into our ‘historic documents’ library and read some of the interesting War diaries that we get sent – there’s nothing quite like reading a personal account of war, as history unfolds itself through the eyes of somebody who was actually there. Forces War Records are fortunate to receive such amazing real life war stories involving lashings of courage, and now you can read some of them – completely free of charge. Discover interesting facts about your ancestors, become more knowledgeable about history, and reveal some of the fantastic characters involved in war…What are you waiting for?

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