Nancy Wake, AC, born on August 30, 1912 in Wellington, New Zealand, was the Allies' most decorated servicewoman of World War II who fought alongside the Maquis group of the French Resistance.
Born Nancy Grace Augusta Wake, her family moved to Australia in 1914. At the age of 16 she ran away from home and became a nurse. With £200 she received from a relative she moved to London, England and trained herself as a journalist. In the 1930s she worked in Paris, France. Later she worked for Hearst newspapers’ European correspondent. In 1935 she witnessed Nazi violence in Vienna.
In 1935 she met French industrialist Henri Fiocca, whom she married in 1939. She was living in Marseille, France when Germany invaded. After the fall of France, she became a courier for the French Resistance and later joined the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow. The Gestapo called her "White Mouse".
When the network was betrayed in December 1943, she had to escape from Marseilles and leave her husband behind. She was later arrested in Toulouse but released four days later. Her fifth or sixth attempt to cross the Pyrenees to Spain succeeded. She went to Britain and joined Special Operations Executive.
In the night of April 29-30 1944 Nancy Wake parachuted into Auvergne and became a liaison between London and the local Maquis group. She coordinated resistance activity prior to Normandy Invasion and recruited more members. She also led attacks to German installations and local Gestapo HQ in Montucon. In April 1944 her 7,000 maqui fought 22,000 SS soldiers, causing 1,400 casualties. Her compatriots, especially Henri Tardivat, praised her fighting spirit - amply demonstrated when she killed a SS sentry with her bare hands to prevent him raising the alarm during an Allied raid. During a 1990s television interview when asked what had happened to the sentry who spotted her, Wake simply drew her finger across her throat. On another occasion, in order to replace codes her wireless operator had been forced to destroy in a German raid, Nancy Wake rode a bicycle for more than 100 miles through several German checkpoints.
After the war, she received the George Cross, the U.S. Medal of Freedom, the Médaille de la Résistance and thrice the Croix de Guerre. She also learned that the Gestapo had tortured her husband to death in 1943.
She worked for the Intelligence Department at the British Air Ministry attached to embassies of Paris and Prague. In 1957 she married John Forward and returned to Australia. In 1985 she wrote her autobiography The White Mouse. In 1988 she received the French title of Cavalier of the Legion of Honor. John Forward died 1997. In March 2004, she was made a Companion of the Order of Australia. As of this writing, she is again living in London.
The 2001 movie Charlotte Gray is loosely based on Nancy Wake's exploits.