"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?' What a flirtatious little bastard I was." (Nancy Wake)
She was nicknamed The White Mouse for her ability to elude capture by the Gestapo. She killed a Nazi with her bare hands. Five million francs were wanted on her head.
Nancy Wake was born in New Zealand in 1912 and raised in Australia. Her father abandonned the family and she ran away at 16, sailing to New York City and later to London. In the 1930's, Nancy trained as a journalist and worked for the Hearst newspapers as a European correspondent. She met and married a French industrialist in 1937. The following year, Nancy "saw roves of Nazi gangs randomly beating Jewish men and women in the streets in Vienna".
Vowing to help the Jews, she joined the French Resistance. The Australian bombshell, an unlikely candidate as a spy, used her feminine wiles to distract the enemy. "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?' What a flirtatious little bastard I was." When the Gestapo did catch on, they started tapping her phone and intercepting her mail. However, unable to catch her in person, they nicknamed her "The White Mouse".
With five million francs on her head, she fled to Marseilles. Her husband, who remained in Paris, was captured, tortured and executed by the Gestapo, paying the price for his wife's role in the Resistance. Unaware of her husband's fate, Nancy continued to carry out her daring work. On the night of April 29, 1944, she parachuted into Auvergne, France to serve as a liasion officer for the local maquisards. From July of 1944 to the liberation of France, Nancy and her fellow maquisards fought 22,000 German soldiers and inflicted 1400 casualties while only sustaining 100 casualties. The White Mouse even killed a Nazi with her bare hands using a karate chop she learned in Resistance training.
Ever eluding the Gestapo, Nancy crossed the Pyrenees to Sapin on her sixth attempt. To replace codes for her wireless operator, she rode a bicycle over 500 kilometres through German checkpoints. The Second World War ended with no one claiming the prize on her head.
For her heroic efforts, Nancy Wake received the Croix de Guerre (3 fois), Medaille de la Resistance, Medal of Freedom and George Medal. She married a RAF officer in 1957 and returned to Australia where they enjoyed a 40 year marriage.
For more information, read:
1. The White Mouse (Nancy Wake, 1985).
2. The Socialite Who Killed a Nazi with Her Bare Hands (New York Times, 2012).