The Neatest Little Paper Ever Read ®

Issue 974

REMARKABLE PEOPLE

NANCY WAKE

The name of Nancy Wake may have faded into history, but her remarkable accomplishments live on. Follow along as Tidbits brings you facts on this freelance journalist turned secret agent.

• Nancy always seemed to be a brave girl, running away from her Sydney, Australia, home in 1928 at the age of 16, working as a nurse. With a few hundred dollars she had inherited from an aunt, she made her way to New York City, then on to London.

• After training herself as a journalist, during the 1930s, Nancy worked for Hearst newspapers as a European correspondent. As Adolf Hitler continued to rise in power, she witnessed firsthand the cruelty of the Nazi gangs persecuting Jewish men and women in the streets. While working in Vienna and seeing the brutality, the seed was planted in her mind to make a difference. In her words, “…I would do anything to make things more difficult for their rotten party…My hatred of the Nazis was very, very deep.”

• She married a wealthy French industrialist in 1939, and as the war raged in France with the German invasion, she became an ambulance driver.

• In 1940, Nancy became part of the French Resistance as a courier. Her wealth and social standing were the perfect cover as she helped create an escape network for prisoners of war, officers, airmen, and refugees across the mountains into Spain, using money contributed by her husband Henri Fiocca. The Fiocca family chalet in the Alps served as a safe house during the journeys.

• By the end of 1942, Nancy was the Gestapo’s most wanted person with a 5-million-franc reward offered for her capture. Having eluded the Gestapo scores of times, the German military called her “the white mouse.” Her phone had been tapped and all of her mail was intercepted.

• It became apparent in 1943 that Nancy would have to flee France. Leaving her husband behind, she boarded a train, but was arrested in Toulouse. Within four days she had been released and was on her way to crossing into Spain. Once in England, she became a member of the British Special Operations Executive, working with the French Resistance. The group was instrumental in organizing attacks on bridges, railroads, and German convoy, as well as destroying one of the Gestapo headquarters.

• Shortly before D-Day, at age 31, Nancy parachuted into France to coordinate drops of weapons and ammunition in preparation. At one point, she had to rode a bicycle 250 miles in 72 hours to deliver a secret wireless code.

• After the war ended, Nancy learned that, in 1943, shortly after her escape to England, her husband had been arrested, tortured, and executed by the Germans for refusing to betray her whereabouts, something for which she blamed herself for the remainder of her life.

• She had saved the lives of hundreds of Allied soldiers and airmen and became the most decorated woman of World War II. She returned to London to work for the British Intelligence Department. In 1960, she married a former POW, and the couple moved to Australia, where she remained until 2001, where she resided until her death in 2011 at the age of 98.