~SOLD~ WAKE Nancy
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake AC, GM (30 August 1912 – 7 August 2011) served as a British Special Operations Executive agent during the later part of World War II. She became a leading figure in the maquis groups of the French Resistance and was one of the Allies' most decorated servicewomen of the war. After the fall of France in 1940, she became a courier for the French Resistance and later joined the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow. By 1943, Wake was the Gestapo's most wanted person, with a 5 million-franc price on her head.
After reaching Britain, Wake joined the Special Operations Executive. On the night of 29/30 April 1944, Wake was parachuted into occupied France Auvergne, becoming a liaison between London and the local maquis group headed by Captain Henri Tardivat in the Forest of Tronçais. From April 1944 until the liberation of France, her 7,000+ maquisards fought 22,000 German soldiers, causing 1,400 casualties, while suffering only 100 themselves.
Born in Roseneath, Wellington, New Zealand, on 30 August 1912, Wake was the youngest of six children. In 1914, her family moved to Australia and settled at North Sydney. Shortly thereafter, her father, Charles Augustus Wake, returned to New Zealand, leaving her mother Ella Wake (née Rosieur; 1874–1968) to raise the children.
In Sydney, she attended the North Sydney Household Arts (Home Science) School (see North Sydney Technical High School). At the age of 16, she ran away from home and worked as a nurse. With £200 that she had inherited from an aunt, she journeyed to New York City, then London where she trained herself as a journalist. In the 1930s, she worked in Paris and later for Hearst newspapers as a European correspondent. She witnessed the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement and "saw roving Nazi gangs randomly beating Jewish men and women in the streets" of Vienna.
Wartime service and Special Operations Executive
In 1937, Wake met wealthy French industrialist Henri Edmond Fiocca (1898–1943), whom she married on 30 November 1939. She was living in Marseille, France when Germany invaded. After the fall of France in 1940, she became a courier for the French Resistance and later joined the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow. In reference to Wake's ability to elude capture, the Gestapo called her the White Mouse. The Resistance exercised caution with her missions; her life was in constant danger, with the Gestapo tapping her phone and intercepting her mail.
In November 1942, Wehrmacht troops occupied the southern part of France after the Allies' Operation Torch had started. This gave the Gestapo unrestricted access to all papers of the Vichy régime and made life more dangerous for Wake. By 1943, Wake was the Gestapo's most wanted person, with a 5 million-franc price on her head. When the network was betrayed that same year, she decided to flee Marseille. Her husband, Henri Fiocca, stayed behind; he was later captured, tortured and executed by the Gestapo. Wake described her tactics: "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?' God, what a flirtatious little bastard I was."
Wake had been arrested in Toulouse, but was released four days later. An acquaintance (Scarlet Pimpernel) managed to have her let out by making up stories about her supposed infidelity to her husband. She succeeded, on her sixth attempt, in crossing the Pyrenees to Spain. Until the war ended, she was unaware of her husband's death and subsequently blamed herself for it.
After reaching Britain, Wake joined the Special Operations Executive. Vera Atkins, who also worked in the SOE, recalls her as "a real Australian bombshell. Tremendous vitality, flashing eyes. Everything she did, she did well." Training reports record that she was "a very good and fast shot" and possessed excellent fieldcraft. She was noted to "put the men to shame by her cheerful spirit and strength of character."
On the night of 29/30 April 1944, Wake was parachuted into the Auvergne, becoming a liaison between London and the local maquis group headed by Captain Henri Tardivat in the Forest of Tronçais. Upon discovering her tangled in a tree, Captain Tardivat greeted her remarking, "I hope that all the trees in France bear such beautiful fruit this year," to which she replied, "Don't give me that French shit." Her duties included allocating arms and equipment that were parachuted in and minding the group's finances. Wake became instrumental in recruiting more members and making the maquis groups into a formidable force, roughly 7,500 strong. She also led attacks on German installations and the local Gestapo HQ in Montluçon. At one point Wake discovered that her men were protecting a girl who was a German spy. They did not have the heart to kill her in cold blood, but when Wake insisted she would perform the execution, they capitulated.
From April 1944 until the liberation of France, her 7,000+ maquisards fought 22,000 German soldiers, causing 1,400 casualties, while suffering only 100 themselves. Her French companions, especially Henri Tardivat, praised her fighting spirit, amply demonstrated when she killed an SS sentry with her bare hands to prevent him from raising the alarm during a raid. During a 1990s television interview, when asked what had happened to the sentry who spotted her, Wake simply drew her finger across her throat. "They'd taught this judo-chop stuff with the flat of the hand at SOE, and I practised away at it. But this was the only time I used it – whack – and it killed him all right. I was really surprised."
On another occasion, to replace codes her wireless operator had been forced to destroy in a German raid, Wake rode a bicycle for more than 500 kilometres (310 mi) through several German checkpoints. During a German attack on another maquis group, Wake, along with two American officers, took command of a section whose leader had been killed. She directed the use of suppressive fire, which facilitated the group's withdrawal without further losses.
Immediately after the war, Wake was awarded the George Medal, the United States Medal of Freedom, the Médaille de la Résistance, and thrice the Croix de Guerre. She learned that the Gestapo had tortured her husband to death in 1943 for refusing to disclose her whereabouts. After the war, she worked for the Intelligence Department at the British Air Ministry attached to embassies in Paris and Prague.
Wake stood as a Liberal candidate in the 1949 Australian federal election for the Sydney seat of Barton, running against Dr. Herbert Evatt, then Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs in the Ben Chifley Labor government. While Chifley lost government to Robert Menzies, Wake recorded a 13 percent swing against Evatt, with Evatt retaining the seat with 53.2 per cent of the vote on a two-party preferred basis. Wake ran against Evatt again at the 1951 federal election. By this time, Evatt was Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The result was extremely close. However, Evatt retained the seat with a margin of fewer than 250 votes. Evatt slightly increased his margin at subsequent elections before relocating to the safer seat of Hunter by 1958.
Wake left Australia just after the 1951 election and moved back to England. She worked as an intelligence officer in the department of the Assistant Chief of Air Staff at the Air Ministry in Whitehall. She resigned in 1957 after marrying a RAF officer, John Forward, in December of that year. They returned to Australia in the early 1960s. Maintaining her interest in politics, Wake was endorsed as a Liberal candidate at the 1966 federal election for the Sydney seat of Kingsford Smith. Despite recording a swing of 6.9 per cent against the sitting Labor member Daniel Curtin, Wake was again unsuccessful. Around 1985, Wake and John Forward left Sydney to retire to Port Macquarie.
In 1985, Wake published her autobiography, The White Mouse. The book became a bestseller and has been reprinted many times.
After 40 years of marriage, her husband John Forward died at Port Macquarie on 19 August 1997; the couple had no children.
In 2001, Wake left Australia for the last time and emigrated to London. She became a resident at the Stafford Hotel in St James' Place, near Piccadilly, formerly a British and American forces club during the war. She had been introduced to her first "bloody good drink" there by the general manager at the time, Louis Burdet. He had also worked for the Resistance in Marseilles. In the mornings she would usually be found in the hotel bar, sipping her first gin and tonic of the day. She was welcomed at the hotel, celebrating her 90th birthday there, where the hotel owners absorbed most of the costs of her stay. In 2003, Wake chose to move to the Royal Star and Garter Home for Disabled Ex-Service Men and Women, in Richmond, London, where she remained until her death.
Wake died on Sunday evening 7 August 2011, aged 98, at Kingston Hospital after being admitted with a chest infection. She had requested that her ashes be scattered at Montluçon in central France. Her ashes were scattered near the village of Verneix, which is near Montluçon, on 11 March 2013.
Her obituary was included in (and inspired the title for) The Socialite who Killed a Nazi with Her Bare Hands: And 144 Other Fascinating People who Died this Year, a collection of New York Times obituaries published in 2012.
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