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Most wanted, most decorated

Nancy Wake spent much of the Second World War working in the French Resistance, was one of the Gestapo's most wanted persons – 5 million francs was offered for her capture – and was one of the Allies' most decorated servicewomen.

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was born in New Zealand in 1912, raised in Australia from the time she was two, and ran away from home at 16, going to work as a nurse. A small inheritance from an aunt enabled her to travel to NYC then London where she became a journalist.

After moving to France in the mid-1930s, Nancy became European correspondent for Hearst and it was while working in Vienna that she witnessed signs of the rise of Hitler and the Nazi movement in "roving Nazi gangs randomly beating Jewish men and women in the streets".

“The Germans became aware of Nancy - known as “White Mouse” - and she became one the Gestapo's most wanted.”

She and her husband, French industrialist Henri Fiocca, were living in Marseille in southern France when Germany invaded and soon Nancy was working as an ambulance driver. It wasn't long before she had become a courier for the Resistance.

Nancy worked as part of the southern France escape network run by Captain Ian Garrow. The network provided Allied evaders assistance in getting out of France and into Spain and then to freedom. The Germans eventually became aware of Nancy – known as “The White Mouse” – and she became one the Gestapo's most wanted persons. A reward of 5 million francs was offered for her capture so Nancy was eventually forced to escape occupied France herself.

After crossing the Pyrenees into Spain along a route she'd assisted so many others to find, Nancy finally reached Britain where she was recruited by the Special Operations Executive. As with other female agents undergoing SOE training, Nancy was given the cover of having become a uniformed member of the FANY.

A note on Nancy’s SOE file indicates the urgency of getting her back into France - “To be trained as agent in the field commencing immediately” - and during her training she became great friends with two fellow women agents, Violette Szabó and Sonia Butt.

Nancy was parachuted back into the Auvergne region of France in March of 1944. Her SOE codename was 'Hélène' but she’d be known to the local French resisters there as 'Andrée.' Nancy would recruit, arm, and organise a force of 7,000 members of the Maquis; personally taking part in sabotage and other operations against the occupying German forces. Only after France’s liberation and the war in Europe ended, would Nancy learn that her husband Henri had been tortured and killed by the Gestapo the previous year, for not revealing her role and location. She would forever blame herself for his death.

Nancy was awarded the George Medal, the US Medal of Freedom, the Médaille de la Résistance, Légion d’Honneur, and the Croix de Guerre, making her the most highly decorated Allied servicewoman of the Second World War.

Nancy and Sonia reunited

The Real Charlotte Grays

In late 2001, Nancy moved back to Britain and Sonia d’Artois travelled to Britain so they could both appear in a documentary about the SOE’s women agents. It was the first time the pair had seen each other since the end of the war.

The Real Charlotte Grays

In late 2001, Nancy moved back to Britain and Sonia d’Artois travelled to Britain so they could both appear in a documentary about the SOE’s women agents. It was the first time the pair had seen each other since the end of the war.

Following the Second World War, Nancy worked for Air Ministry intelligence in Paris and in Prague, finally returning to Australia full time to live.  

Nancy’s wartime agent friend Violette Szabó had been captured by German forces and was eventually executed at Ravensbrück alongside two SOE women comrades. Sonia Butt had survived her mission in the Le Mans area, and having already married the Canadian SOE agent Guy d’Artois during their training, went on to enjoy their post-war life in Canada together.

In late 2001, Nancy moved back to Britain to live out her years, and this provided an opportunity for a very special reunion. Sonia had travelled from Canada to Britain especially so they could both appear in a television documentary about SOE’s women agents - The Real Charlotte Grays - and at The Stafford hotel in London, the pair met for the first time since the end of the Second World War.

Verneix ceremony – paper poppies with note: "In memory of 'Mme Andre"

Remembering Nancy

In March 2013, Nancy’s ashes were taken to France by the Australian military attaché from London to the village of Verneix near Montluçon where a memorial ceremony was held at the chateau used as wartime HQ by Nancy and her maquisards.

Remembering Nancy

In March 2013, Nancy’s ashes were taken to France by the Australian military attaché from London to the village of Verneix near Montluçon where a memorial ceremony was held at the chateau used as wartime HQ by Nancy and her maquisards.

Nancy died in 2011 at the age of 98. One of her final requests had been to have her ashes scattered in France where she’d served with the Maquis.

Fulfilling that wish, the Australian military attaché in London transported her ashes to the village of Verneix near Montluçon where members of the present day FANY (PRVC), a representative of the Escape Lines Memorial Society (ELMS), the mayor of Verneix, and members of the local resistance association gathered to remember 'The White Mouse.'

The Stories of Secret War

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