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Nancy Wake, the brave 'white mouse'


From the Guardian:

During the second world war, the servicewoman Nancy Wake, who has died aged 98, became known as "the White Mouse", a nickname given to her by the Gestapo for her elusiveness.

. . .Vera Atkins, who worked in the SOE's French section, remembered her as "a real Australian bombshell. Tremendous vitality, flashing eyes. Everything she did, she did well". Her training reports record that she was "a very good and fast shot" and had a good eye for fieldcraft. On several occasions, she "put the men to shame by her cheerful spirit and strength of character".

Born in Wellington, New Zealand, Nancy Grace Augusta Wake grew up in Australia, left for London in 1935 and became a journalist. She saw Nazism at work in Germany and when the war began, enrolled as an ambulance driver.

She began to help British soldiers trapped by the collapse of France to escape back home, and this led to her heroic undercover work with the famous escape line . . Eventually, she caught the Gestapo's eye and in May 1943, knowing they were hot on her trail, she escaped from France to Spain. [Her husband] Henri promised to follow. But he was picked up by the Gestapo and shot. She blamed herself for his death: if it had not been for her, she mourned, he would have survived the war.

. . .In April 1944, Nancy was dropped by parachute into the Auvergne region along with Major John Farmer, leader of the Freelance resistance circuit.

. . .Circumstances gave her considerable freedom of action. The circuit's orders were to help organise and arm the local maquis, and soon Wake was fighting alongside them in pitched battles with the Germans.

. . .working with two American officers when the Germans launched an attack on another maquis group, she took command of a section whose leader had been killed and with exceptional coolness directed the covering fire while the group withdrew with no further loss of life.

. . .After the liberation of France, Wake returned to London, where she was awarded the George Medal. The French gave her three Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance, and later made her Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur. The Americans awarded her the Medal of Freedom.

She had a festive second marriage in Australia with a retired RAF pilot, eventually moving back to London, where she liked to perch on a bar stool in the Stafford Hotel.

"When I die," she once said, "I want my ashes scattered over the hills where I fought alongside all those men."

Ave atque Vale.

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