09 August 2011

RIP: Nancy Wake AC GM

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake AC GM
The White Mouse
30 Aug 1912 – 7 Aug 2011

ZUI this article from The Sydney Morning Herald:
Nancy Wake, whose remarkable exploits as a British agent with the French Resistance during the Second World War made her one of the most decorated servicewomen of that conflict, was born on August 30, 1912, in the back room of a weatherboard shack in Wellington, New Zealand.


In 1936, she met a Marseilles millionaire, Henri Fiocca, and she married him just after World War II broke out. She settled into his Marseilles mansion, leaving journalism behind. As the Nazis crossed the French border, Wake was appalled at the ''collaborationistes'' who advocated living as comfortably as possible within the Nazi yoke.

She was never so disposed herself and only a short time after the war began, became a courier for the local Resistance movement, shifting everything from simple messages and high-tech radio parts to well-secreted cells of partisans.


So busy was she that the Gestapo came to call her ''the White Mouse'', in part it seems because whenever they felt they had this beautiful woman cornered, she was able to disappear. Finally, though, the Gestapo came for her and she was only just able to escape before getting over the Pyrenees herself.

Her husband, however, was not so fortunate. After being arrested by the Gestapo, he refused to divulge her whereabouts or give an account of her activities and was summarily executed.


At 1 o'clock on the morning of March 31, 1943, she was parachuted back into France into the forests of Auvergne - just to the north of the town of Clermont-Ferrand - where 7000 partisans were to be found in separate groups.

Her mission was to judge the strength of the many separate bands and then radio London a heavily coded message as to what was needed in terms of munitions.


For her courage and feats during the war, Wake was awarded nine bravery medals, including the Medal of Freedom from the US, the George Medal from Britain and the Medaille de la Resistance from France. In a controversy that continued for the next five decades, she never received a medal from the Australian government on the simple grounds that she was not fighting for any of the Australian services during the war.

Despite that, in her latter years, the federal government did contact her from time to time to see if she would accept a medal. It was consistently rejected. When the Herald asked her about this in April 2000, she was typically blunt. ''The last time there was a suggestion of giving me [an Australian medal], I told the government they could stick their medals where the monkey stuck his nuts. The thing is, if they gave me a medal now, it wouldn't be given with love, so I don't want anything from them. They can bugger off.''

ZUI also this article from The Australian:
Wake helped recruit an additional 3000 fighters to build a force of about 7000. She led groups of these fighters on guerilla attacks against German troops, installations and equipment.

In one confrontation with German soldiers, she lost her radio and codes and, therefore, all ability to communicate with her controllers in Britain. It was a severe loss because without a radio she could not receive orders or advice about air drops, nor could she report the results of her sabotage missions.

It meant a hazardous bicycle ride of 500km through German checkpoints to replace her lost codes. It was a marathon effort that took more than 70 hours. "I got back and they said, 'How are you?'. I cried. I couldn't stand up, I couldn't sit down. I couldn't do anything. I just cried," Wake recalled.

The 1944 Normandy landings were approaching and the resistance was being primed to divert as many German troops as possible. Wake's groups were constantly on the move, sleeping rough and engaging the enemy in numerous firefights. Often, the local people suffered reprisals.

Wake was leading a force of more than 7000, a highly motivated army that was making life decidedly uncomfortable for about 22,000 German storm-troopers stationed in the Auvergne. In June 1944, the Germans attacked the resistance stronghold with the help of artillery and aircraft. At the end, about 1400 German soldiers lay dead; the resistance lost about 100.

During a later attack on an arms factory, Wake killed a sentry with a karate chop to the neck.

"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."

There were sabotage missions, roadblocks and gun fights. Wake led an attack on Gestapo headquarters; she reputedly executed a woman who had been spying for the Germans.

In August, Paris was liberated and Wake's fighters celebrated in Vichy where she heard of her husband's fate.


The French government made her a Chevalier de Legion d'Honneur, awarded her the Croix de Guerre with star and two Palms, and the Medaille de la Resistance. The British gave her the George Medal and the US awarded her the Medal of Freedom with Palm. She was also entitled to wear the British 1939-45 Star, the France and Germany Star, the British War Medal 1939-45 and the Defence Medal. She also held the New Zealand Returned and Services Association's highest honour, the badge in Gold.

Despite representations from the Returned Services League, successive Australian governments refused to recognise her heroism with an award. That was rectified in March 2004 when governor-general Michael Jeffery presented her with a Companion of the Order of Australia.

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