This badass French Resistance spy killed Nazis with her bare hands, guided hundreds of wounded Allied soldiers out of occupied French territory to safety, and played a crucial role in smuggling information back and forth between the Allied forces and the underground French Resistance. Her name, you ask? Wake… Nancy Wake.
Look, I know I already did a blog entry on Nazi-fighting females from WWII (See “The Night Witches”), but what can I say? I totally have a soft spot for badass 1940s woman warriors. The IRL Peggy Carters, you know? I try to diversify these blogs as much as I can, but I couldn’t resist including this one. So, all disclaimers aside, here’s the incredible Nancy Wake.
Born in 1912 in New Zealand and raised in Australia, this dauntless dame became a world traveler at the age of 20 when she left home to travel to London and New York before finally settling into an elegant lifestyle in Paris. Nancy was your typical glamour girl, living it up among the Parisian elite and enjoying the finer things in life before war struck out in Europe. She described herself as a young woman who loved nothing more than a good drink and handsome men, “especially French men.”
Working as a free-lance journalist, Nancy took a trip to Vienna in the mid-1930s and was horrified at what she saw there: Nazi gangs roamed the streets beating and terrorizing Jewish families. This was the moment that Nancy swore that “if the opportunity ever arose, I would do everything I could.”
Luckily for the Allies and my blog, the opportunity arose.
Using her wealth and influence after the occupation of France by the Axis forces, Nancy served as a courier and then an escort for Allied soldiers across enemy territory into nearby neutral Spain. In 1943, when occupation authorities discovered Ms. Wake’s activities, she was forced to flee her home, escaping to Spain on the back of coal truck while under German fire. Her husband, who had stayed behind, was executed by the Nazis as retribution when he refused to disclose her whereabouts.
She refused to let this stop her, however. As Nancy herself once said, “I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.” Over the course of the war, Wake proved that with bravery and sheer grit, a woman can accomplish anything she puts her mind to. At one point, when German attacks disrupted lines of communication, Wake traveled 72 hours through enemy territory via bicycle to deliver and receive crucial messages for the French resistance. In April of 1944 she parachuted into France with the British to make preparations for the D-Day invasion, collecting night parachute drops of crucial supplies and munitions, setting up wireless communications with Britain, and screwing with the local Nazis.
After one particularly successful raid on a Gestapo garrison and arms factory, the Gestapo put a hefty price on her head and set up various traps to catch her on her missions. Her incredible ability to allude capture every single time caused them to nickname her “la souris blanche” – “the white mouse.” One of Nancy’s comrades from the French resistance once said of her “She is the most feminine woman I know until the fighting starts- then she is like five men.”
Following the war, Wake received honors from the governments of France, Britain, and Australia for her work. She was also the subject of two biographies, and a 1980s TV miniseries, though she was less than pleased with the miniseries’ depiction of her.
“For goodness sake, did the Allies parachute me into France to fry eggs and bacon for the men?” she asked. “There wasn’t an egg to be had for love nor money, and even if there had been, why would I be frying it when I had men to do that sort of thing?”