One of the most decorated and celebrated World War II spies, a New Zealand-born woman who killed a German sentry with her bare hands, has died at the age of 98.

Nancy Wake saved thousands of Allied lives, played a crucial role in D-Day and topped the Gestapo's most wanted list.

She earned the nickname the White Mouse for her ability to evade capture. But she was finally beaten yesterday, as she died in a London hospital just three weeks short of her 99th birthday. She had been suffering from a chest infection and her health deteriorated.

Worldwide tributes flowed for the woman described as brave, tough, fearless and formidable. Returned and Services' Association chief executive Dr Stephen Clarke said branches flew their flags at half mast yesterday to honour the heroine.

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"They call it the great generation and she was one of the greatest. Throughout her life she didn't back away from anything and she said it how she saw it. She was no-nonsense."

Ms Wake once famously told the Government in Australia - where she was raised - that it could "stick their medals where the monkey stuck his nuts".

Born in Wellington on August 30, 1912, Ms Wake moved to Sydney when she was a year old. In her 20s, she travelled to Europe, seeing Hitler's Nazis persecute Jews and blacks. In the 1940s, she and her French husband, Henri Fiocca, were active in the Resistance.

She set up escape routes for more than 1000 Allied servicemen and sabotaged German facilities, often under the nose of the Gestapo. She was later trained as a British Special Operations Executive and sent into France, where she led 7000 Resistance fighters.

She was the Allies' most decorated World War II servicewoman. France gave her its highest honour, the Legion of Honour, three Croix de Guerre and a Resistance Medal.

She was awarded Britain's George Medal, the US Medal of Freedom, and the RSA's highest honour, the Badge in Gold. She was also made a Companion of the Order of Australia.

Ms Wake had lived in a London nursing home for retired war veterans since a heart attack in 2003. Even in her last years, she was said to enjoy a good party with gins and tonic.

Her story was told in a 1987 telemovie, Nancy Wake, where she was played by Australian Noni Hazlehurst. Two seasons of the 1980s British TV series Wish Me Luck were based on her exploits, much of the dialogue copied from her autobiography.

According to Wikipedia, a feature film entitled The White Mouse is in the early stages of production.

NANCY WAKE AUGUST 30, 1912 - AUGUST 8, 2011
* She set up escape routes for more than a thousand Allied servicemen during World War II.
* Had become the Gestapo's most-wanted person by 1943 with a price on her head.
* Nicknamed the White Mouse for her ability to evade capture.
* She once famously told the Australian Government to "stick their medals where the monkey stuck his nuts".