Nancy Wake – WW2 Freedom Fighter, Allied Agent, And The Gestapo’s Most Wanted
Nancy Wake may not be a name that you remember hearing in history class. This French socialite evolved into a distinguished WWII freedom fighter and earning the distinction of being the Gestapo’s Most Wanted with a $5 million bounty on her head. Her courage, indomitable spirit and persistence drove her troops during the war. It was noted in her obituary that she “put men to shame by her cheerful spirit and strength of character.”
She was born in New Zealand in 1912. Several years later, her family moved to North Sidney, Australia. Soon after moving, her father abandoned the family of six children. As she grew up, she became determined to make her own way in the world. At 16 years old, she ran away from home to study nursing. She then moved to London to work position as a journalist. Then she was hired by the Hearst Corporation in France. This positioned her to watch the Nazi Party’s growth. While in France, she met and married Henri Edmond Fiocca, a wealthy French industrialist. They led a society life of lavish parties in Marseilles.
As tensions throughout Europe grew, Wake became disturbed by the abuse at the hands of the Germans. So what is a spunky, society girl to do? In 1940, when France fell to the Germans, she decided that she had to act. The French Resistance seemed to be a perfect fit for her. She began her work as a courier but quickly moved up into a position that supported an escape network for people fleeing the Nazis. Her ability to disguise herself and elude capture led the Gestapo to nickname her “the White Mouse”.
While you don’t hear the terms “socialite” and “resistance fighter” often used in the same sentence, the combination allowed Nancy Wake some leverage. Her society status allowed her to travel more freely while completing covert operations. It also allowed her to purchase an ambulance which she used to evacuate refugees. When this operation ceased in 1943, she was able to secure fake documents allowing her to work in the German controlled area of Vichy. She smuggled out 1,000 prisoners of war and Allied airmen.
As the intense pressure to capture her grew, husband encouraged her to flee the country. After several attempts, she made it to London where she began work for Special Operations Executive (SOE). After intense guerilla combat training, she parachuted into Auvergne to support local maquis groups, resistance fighters. She began recruiting and build her group to 7,500 maquis. She led attacks against the Germans and the Gestapo headquarters. At one point, Germans captured her team’s arms and equipment. She made a 350-mile bicycle ride to ensure that her fighters were armed. When France was liberated, they had fought against 22,000 Germans with 1,400 casualties. Her maquis only had 100 fatalities. For bravery and courage, Nancy Wake is a name to remember.