#28 – Nancy Wake

Quite stylish for a Kiwi

“We’re ‘La Resistance’, we want to save Terrance and Phillip and stop the war and stuff” – Stan, South Park – The Movie

Most wanted. It’s a title that many criminals might aspire to but will never meet because they’re just not very good at what they do. Hell, Osama was only top for so long because he hid in a cave (and Pakistan) for 10 years. It’s a fearsome title though, with the people at the top usually being terrible people.

That is, until, you look at the most wanted lists of dictatorships at war. And sitting pretty at the top of the Gestapo’s most wanted in 1943 was a New Zealand-born, Australian-bred woman by the name of Nancy Wake. Quite an accolade for someone who ran away to New York after inheriting £200 from an Aunt, and then trained as a journalist in the UK.

After settling in France with her husband, the area became occupied by the Nazis, which is a bit like going on holiday only to find that the cast on The Only Way Is Essex and Jersey Shore are staying next door. For six years.

Undeterred, she became involved in the French Resistance, and for three years helped smuggle a thousand or so people out of France and out-of-reach of the Gestapo. She herself, though, seemed to be completely out-of-reach to them too; she constantly evaded capture, even with the Gestapo tapping her phones and intercepting mail delivered to her. As such, she received the nickname of ‘The White Mouse’.

This is not a good representation of Nancy's 500-mile cycling trip

It seems the Gestapo were not too fond of a young woman meddling with their affairs, like a wartime version of Scooby Doo, and placed a £5million Franc bounty on her head as she went straight to number one on the Most Wanted. It’s unknown whether Tony Blackburn presented a show on this, but all sources point towards ‘likely’. She fled in 1943 after being betrayed by her cell and ended up back in the UK. Her husband was not so lucky and, unbeknownst to her, was caught, tortured and eventually killed by the Gestapo. Fortunately for Wake, he refused to give her up.

So, you’ve escaped France from the Nazis after being top of the Most Wanted list and nearly caught multiple times in three years. What do you do now? Well, of you’re Nancy Wake, you sign up to be a Special Operations Executive and go back. Yes, she went back, as if to taunt Germany for not capturing her in the first place.

During this time, she recruited more people to the Resistance, allocating arms, cycled 500 miles through German checkpoints to retrieve replacement radio codes after her area’s was destroyed in a raid by the Germans and killed an SS sentry with her bare hands. This woman had balls.

Obviously, she received a ton of accolades after the war; the George Medal from the UK,  three Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance, and later made Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur from France, as well as a Medal of Freedom from the US. It took Australia a further 59 years to recognise her achievements (not the first time they’ve ignored a national hero for so long). Nancy died August 7, 2011.

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