Fascinating People in History: Nancy Wake
*Author’s Note: She just lived a fascinating life. None of use today can even imagine risking our lives like she did; heck, we can rarely stomach the idea of being apart of a bigger cause. Anyways, she’s inspiring. Enjoy.*
Nancy Wake: (Also known by codenames Heléne, Andrée, White Mouse, and Witch)
Born in New Zealand in 1912, Nancy Wake was apart of a dirt-poor family of six who were raised by their mother in Australia. After having “studied” to become a housewife at North Sydney Household Arts School (isn’t that just crazy that that even existed?!), she ran away at 16. She served as a nurse in New York before going to London where she worked as a journalist. She was working in Vienna when she personally saw the Nazi regime’s rise to power.
During the outbreak of World War II, she left her home in Marseille and joined the British Intelligence as an agent. Stationed in France she became one of the leading figures in the maquis groups (guerrilla fighters in rural France) in the Resistance. When France finally fell in 1940, she became a courrier for the French Resistance, risking her life with every important new development. By 1943, she earned the nickname “White Mouse” because of her several successful escapes and became the Gestapo’s most wanted person, with a 5 million-franc bounty.
Here’s a bold quote by Wake describing her tactics: “A little powder and a little drink on the way, and I’d pass their (German) posts and wink and say ‘Do you want to search me?’ God, what a flirtatious little bastard I was!”
When she reached England again in 1944 after having to sneak across the Pyrenees into Spain, she joined the Special Operations Executive. In April, she was parachuted into rural France to help lead a local marquis group.
When she was found in a tree tangled in her parachute, the French captain reportedly called up to her saying “I hope that all the trees in France bear such beautiful fruit this year” to which she said “Don’t give me that French sh*t”. She was greatly sassy.
Until 1944 until the end of the war, she with her 7,500 French soldiers fought 22,000 SS soldiers, resulting in 1,400 casualties while only receiving 100 themselves. One time, she had to ride her bicycle over 500 miles through many German checkpoints to retrieve lost intercepted wireless codes. Tell me any 20-something now who would do that.
Wakes was honored throughout Britain, US, and France. After the war, she served as an intelligence agent for many years and even ran for election in Sydney. She died at the age of 98 in 2011 and had her ashes spread in rural France.
I chose her for this installment because nothing stopped this sheltered pretty Australian girl with no specific skills to become an instrumental part of the war and history itself. She never hesitated to become involved and never stopped when it became too dangerous. She was fearless, brave, and cunning. A true hero.
-“Freedom is the only thing worth living for. While I was doing that work, I used to think it didn’t matter if I died, because without freedom there was no point in living”.
-“I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas”.