Australian World War II heroine Nancy Wake has died at a nursing home in London aged 98: a report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on 8 August 2011
Nancy Wake, who died at the age of 98 in London on 7 August, 2011, was a legendary World War II hero. Born in New Zealand, her family moved to Australia when she was two.
Soon after, her father went back to New Zealand, leaving Nancy’s mother to raise her six children. Nancy worked as a nurse until 1932, when an aunt in New Zealand bequeathed her a sum of money which allowed her to fulfill her ambition of travelling to Europe.
She lived in Paris working as a journalist, and later married a wealthy French industrialist, Henri Fiocca. In 1933 she went to Vienna to interview Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany. In Vienna Wake saw Jews chained to huge wheels, being whipped by Nazi troops. She realised the terrible danger Hitler posed and devoted herself to defeating the evil she had seen.
In 1939 when World War II broke out Nancy Wake joined the French Resistance, not an official army but a citizen army formed to fight the Nazis. Wake fled France as the Nazis discovered she was helping Jews escape using an old ambulance she had bought.
After Nancy Wake left France the Nazis tortured and killed her husband, Henri, as he would not betray the activities and whereabouts of his wife.
She escaped to London, where she trained as a spy. When she completed her training she parachuted back into France. Her job was to supply the Resistance with weapons, and establish covert communication with bases in England.
On one occasion she rode a bicycle 500 kilometres over a period just less than three days, to re-establish a coded wireless communication network which was essential for supplies of weapons.
The Nazis did not suspect she was a Resistance fighter.
Nancy Wake said, 'I volunteered … not because I'm brave … being a woman I was the only one who could do it. When I got back … I couldn't stand up, I couldn't sit down. I couldn't do anything. I just cried.'
Nancy Wake recalled that as a woman, it was easier for her get through the Nazi checkpoints, and to operate unnoticed by the authorities.
Because of this talent for evasion her Nazi pursuers gave her the codename of 'White Mouse', and she was placed on their most wanted list in 1943, two years before the end of the war.
She went on to lead 7,000 Resistance fighters, and is reputed to have killed a German soldier in hand-to-hand combat, and to have executed a female German spy.
In 1949 and in 1951, she stood as the Liberal candidate in Barton. On the second occasion, she came close to defeating the Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Herbert Evatt.
Immediately after the war, Nancy Wake was awarded the George Medal, the United States Medal of Freedom, the Médaille de la Résistance and thrice the Croix de Guerre.
She was appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1970 and was promoted to Officer of the Legion of Honour in 1988.
She was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2004. In April 2006, she was awarded the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association's highest honour, the RSA Badge in Gold. Her medals are on display in the Second World War gallery at the Australian War Memorial Museum in Canberra.
In her last years she lived in a hotel in London.
She was remarkable woman, a true heroine.