The woman considered to be New Zealand's greatest war heroine is likely to be honoured by a permanent memorial but a World War 2 veteran says he is disgusted she was never formally recognised by the country she refused to forget.

Nancy Wake, a British agent in France during the war, died in England yesterday, three weeks short of her 99th birthday.

The New Zealand-born resistance fighter saved hundreds of Allied lives during World War 2 by getting them back to England from Europe. She was one of the most decorated women of the war.

She left New Zealand when she was very young and lived most of her life until the war in Australia but until she died she refused to renounce her New Zealand roots, saying she was born in New Zealand and would always be a New Zealander.


She had been honoured by several countries but not formally by New Zealand.

Her only New Zealand recognition was in 2006 when she was awarded the Returned and Services Association's (RSA) Band in Gold, the RSA's highest honour, which was presented to her at Buckingham Palace by the Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

World War 2 veteran Pat Hickton, who was saved by Nancy Wake and her fellow resistance fighters, told NZPA today he was disgusted she died without formal recognition by the New Zealand Government for saving so many Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen, and getting them back to England.

Mr Hickton, 90, was a tail gunner in a Wellington bomber when he was shot down during a bombing raid over occupied France in 1941.

He was badly wounded when he could not get out of his gun turret and his bomber crashed.

Mr Hickton was taken prisoner of war but escaped and was helped back to England by Nancy Wake.

He told NZPA he met her in a small village as the French resistance helped him and other Allied airmen avoid the Germans and get back to England.

"We just said hello. Everything was kept down, no names were mentioned. They only said hello when they came in.''


Mr Hickton said he had been trying for years to have her recognised and recently hand-wrote a four-page letter to Prime Minister John Key urging him to recognise her achievements.

He said he had yet to hear back.

He also said he had been promised by Veteran Affairs Minister Judith Collins Ms Wake would be recognised with an award in the Queen's Birthday Honours list last year.

"But she didn't get it.''

Mr Hickton said Nancy Wake deserved to be recognised by the Order of New Zealand, the country's highest honour.

He was "absolutely disgusted'' New Zealand had not honoured her, Mr Hickton told NZPA.

RSA chief executive Stephen Clarke said Ms Wake was New Zealand's greatest heroines from any conflict.

The RSA would now consider her for a permanent public recognition.

He said Nancy Wake would stand as someone of great courage and commitment who wanted to put right the wrongs she had seen committed by Nazi Germany in the "darkness of those times''.

"For that she should be remembered by all New Zealanders as our greatest heroine, not just for the Second World War but of our military history.''

He said because of her "huge amounts of courage'' she would continue to be an example for young New Zealanders.

Dr Clarke said the RSA would now consider what could be done to remember Ms Wake.

"It would be nice to set up some sort of memorial, competition, award or scholarship that has a contribution to future generations. There may be an opportunity for a permanent memorial as well.''

He said the RSA would look at something which kept the spirit of Nancy Wake alive.

After living in Australia Ms Wake trained as a journalist in London.

In the 1930s she worked in Paris and before war was declared in 1939, she witnessed the rise of German dictator Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

When France fell to the Germans she became a courier for the French resistance and later joined the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow. The Gestapo called her the White Mouse because they could never catch her as a British agent.

Ms Wake had become the Gestapo's most-wanted person by 1943 and had a price on her head.

She fled to Britain but returned to occupied France by parachute in 1944 to work again with the French resistance.

Last year a plaque was unveiled near her place of birth in Oriental Parade in Wellington.


* Australia: Companion of the Order of Australia; George Medal

* Commonwealth of Nations: 1939-1945 Star; France and Germany Star and bar

* United Kingdom: Defence Medal and bar; War Medal 1939-1945

* France: Legion d'Honneur; Croix de Guerre with two palms and a star; Medaille de la Resistance

* United States of America: Presidential Medal of Freedom with Bronze Palm

* New Zealand: Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association Badge in Gold.