The New Zealand-born World War II heroine dubbed the "White Mouse" by the Gestapo because they could not catch her has received the Returned Services Association's top honour.

Nancy Wake, 94, now living in a London resthome, has been awarded the RSA Badge in Gold and life membership for her work with the French Resistance during the war.

She is the first woman to receive the Badge in Gold. Other recipients include Britain's wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Lieutenant-General Lord Freyberg, Major-General Sir Howard Kippenberger, two monarchs and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Miss Wake is likely to be presented with the award in London soon.

The RSA said that as a saboteur and Resistance organiser and fighter, the feisty woman led an army of 7000 irregular troops in guerrilla warfare against the Nazis in France.

She was instrumental in the rescue, escape and repatriation of more than 1000 Allied servicemen from behind enemy lines and was known to have killed many Germans, including one with her bare hands.

She was born in Wellington but shifted to Australia at an early age and in her early 20s moved to Paris to work as a journalist.

In Vienna in 1933 she interviewed Adolf Hitler. She was shocked by his persecution of the Jews and vowed to do something about it.

She married a Frenchman in 1939 and, as the Germans invaded, joined the Resistance and helped Allied pilots and soldiers to flee France.

Her husband was executed by the Nazis and she became one of the Gestapo's most wanted fugitives.

She escaped to Britain for more training and was parachuted back into France as an agent.

She was awarded nine medals, including the George Medal from Britain, the Legion d'Honneur, the Croix de Guerre (twice) and the Medaille de la Resistance from France, the Medal of Freedom with Palm from America and, in 2004, the Order of Australia.

She was the most decorated servicewoman of World War II.

However, she received nothing from her country of birth, New Zealand, and RSA national president John Campbell said it should be remembered that she was a Kiwi and held a New Zealand passport.

Her biographer, Peter Fitzsimons, said her great-grandmother Pourewa was in 1836 the first Maori to marry a European, Charles Cossell. They were married by the Rev William Williams at Waimate Mission Station on October 26, 1836.

Mr Campbell said the RSA's 90th birthday and the Year of the Veteran made this "the perfect opportunity to recognise her heroism and impassioned fight for democracy against the German Third Reich".

"We are delighted that Nancy has expressed her pleasure in accepting the award."

He said the RSA held her in the utmost respect and admiration.

"It is made in recognition and acknowledgment of the courage, bravery, tenacity, valour and gallantry shown by Nancy in the face of tremendous adversity and personal danger."

The Badge in Gold was recently granted posthumously to New Zealand's Unknown Warrior on his return from France in 2004.

In February, Cabinet minister Jim Anderton, who is on the Government's Honours Secretariat, was criticised by the National Party for failing to push for an honour for Miss Wake.

In a letter to a lobbyist, he said she had been brought up in Australia from the age of 2.

"Certainly there is no question of her heroism during World War II, and this has been recognised with numerous decorations. However, she did not serve with or alongside New Zealand forces at any time."

- NZPA