Nancy Wake: WWII Woman, Socialite, French Resistance Leader, Spy, British Special Ops Officer
by C.K. Thomas
When the Nazis invaded France in WWII, Nancy Wake and her husband, wealthy French Industrialist Henri Fiocca, lived in Marseille. Actor Cate Blanchett played the lead character inspired by Nancy Wake in the film Charlotte Gray, based on the novel by Sebastian Faulks. The Gestapo called Nancy Wake “The White Mouse,” based on her ability to avoid the traps they constantly set for her.
Born in New Zealand in 1912 and raised in Australia, Nancy Wake made her own way at an early age, traveling to London at 16 on a small inheritance from an aunt. She studied journalism and moved to Paris where she convinced a Hearst editor she could read and write Egyptian, using shorthand characters as her proof. Subsequently married to Fiocca and living as a wealthy socialite, she could easily have avoided the ravages of WWII. However, she chose to be a courier for the French resistance. The Gestapo set out to capture her, so she fled across the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain and returned to Britain where she trained with the British Special Operations Executive.
Armed with guerilla warfare tactics, including the ability to kill with her bare hands, she parachuted into France to lead a resistance team 7,000 strong. When Resistance communications codes were destroyed to keep them out of German hands, she bicycled 43.5 miles (500 km) in 71 hours through many German checkpoints to deliver the new codes so weapons drops and orders could be restored. Her exploits were well known and the Gestapo continued to be close on her heels, but she survived the war and returned to her home in Marseille. There she discovered her husband had been tortured and killed by the Gestapo when he refused to give up her location.
In 1957 she married John Melvin Forward, a former RAF fighter pilot and in her later years lived in a British retirement home for veterans. She spent most of her time drinking gin and tonic in a bar across the street where she had her first “bloody good drink” following the war.
Her daring and heroism have been the subject of several books and many articles. I encourage you to read more about this exceptional woman, who managed to save hundreds of allied soldiers by helping them escape from France over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. She reportedly continued to nurture her glamour girl image, while carrying out the most dangerous and deadly operations of war. Her stories make for fascinating reading. Nancy Wake died in London, safe in her bed, at the age of 98.
The Washington Post: “Nancy Wake, famed World War II agent – Obituary” by Adam Bernstein – August 9, 2011.
http://tinyurl.com/zfpgkho – The Guardian – Monday, August 8, 2011
http://tinyurl.com/zgre59e – The Guardian – Monday, August 8, 2011
C.K. Thomas lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Before retiring, she worked for Phoenix Newspapers while raising three children and later as communications editor for a large United Methodist Church. The Storm Women is her fourth novel and the third in the Arrowstar series about adventurous women of the desert Southwest. Follow her blog: We-Tired and Writing Blog.