World War 2 heroine Nancy Wake passed away at age 98 on Sunday. Born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, Wake moved to London as a teenager, and then Paris. A trained journalist, Wake committed herself to fighting Nazis after she interviewed Adolf Hitler in Vienna in 1933.
When France fell to the Nazis, Wake become a courier for the Resistance. When she learned the Gestapo was on their way to arrest her, Wake managed to flee and ended up back in London. There she joined the Special Operations Executive, a clandestine body that trained agents in guerrilla warfare against the Nazi occupiers.
Trained in espionage and sabotage, Wake helped to arm and lead 7,000 Resistance fighters against Germany before the D-Day invasion towards the end of the war. During one raid she allegedly killed an SS guard with her bare hands. Sadly, on return home after the liberation, she discovered that her first husband, Henri Fiocca, had been tortured and killed by the Gestapo.
Wake evaded capture many times and reached the top of the Gestapo’s wanted list, according to her biographer, Peter FitzSimons. She was known to the Gestapo as The White Mouse, FitzSimons said, because “every time they had her cornered … she was gone again.”
Wake continued to work for British intelligence until 1957. She then moved back to Australia and married her second husband, John Forward. She returned to London in 2001, a few years after his death, and had lived there since. Holding France’s Legion d’Honneur, Britain’s George Medal and the US Medal of Freedom, Nancy Wake was Britain’s most decorated servicewoman from WWII. Her story inspired the 1999 novel, Charlotte Gray, which was made into a film by the same name.
Upon hearing of Wake’s death, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard had this to say: “Nancy Wake was a woman of exceptional courage and resourcefulness whose daring exploits saved the lives of hundreds of Allied personnel and helped bring the Nazi occupation of France to an end. Today our nation honors a truly remarkable individual whose selfless valor and tenacity will never be forgotten. Nancy Wake will remain an abiding inspiration to generations of Australians.”
May she be an inspiration to you, as well.