Super spy

World War II hero and the Allies' most decorated servicewoman

Nancy Wake was not a violent person by nature. But when war broke out in 1939, the Wellington-born journalist wasn't going to stand back and watch the Nazis take over without a fight.

Wake grew up in Sydney after her parents separated when she was a toddler, and her father returned to New Zealand.

Her relationship with her mother was fraught and, at 16, she ran away from home, traveling as far as New York and London, before she settled in Paris, working as the European correspondent for a US newspaper.

Her work meant she travelled through Europe and witnessed the rise of the Nazis - along with their despicable behaviour towards Jews. The violent scenes she witnessed during this time cemented a deep hatred of the Nazis and she resolved to fight them in any way possible.


In 1939, she married wealthy French industrialist Henri Fiocca and moved to Marseille, where they lived a glamorous and charmed life for six months before war took over.

The following year, she began working as a courier for the Resistance movement. As the charming wife of a wealthy businessman, she didn't arouse suspicion and had the freedom to travel where others couldn't.

Her involvement soon escalated and by 1943, she had helped more than 1000 Allied soldiers and downed airmen escape France.

She officially became the Gestapo's most wanted person, with a 5 million franc price on her head, and was known by the Germans as "la souris blanche" - the White Mouse - for her ability to elude capture.

With the threat to her life mounting, the Resistance insisted she leave France. Her escape wasn't easy - it took six attempts to cross the Pyrenees mountains - and she was forced to leave her beloved husband behind. He was later captured, tortured and killed for refusing to reveal her whereabouts.

Back in Britain, Wake undertook vigorous military training as part of the French Section of the British Special Operations Executive, which worked closely with the Resistance.

In 1944, she parachuted back into France on a mission to organise the Resistance ahead of the Allies' D-Day invasion and weaken the German army before the attack.

Wake led 7000 Maquis troops in guerrilla warfare, claiming more than 1400 German casualties, including one soldier, who she killed with her bare hands.


Speaking of her efforts later, Wake said: "I was never afraid. I was too busy to be afraid."

After the war, Wake remarried and spent her life between England and Australia. She died in 2011, aged 98.

Her dying wish was for her ashes to be scattered over the mountains where she fought during the war.