Monday, August 8, 2011

Nancy Wake - French Resistance Fighter Passes

Nancy Wake, Australia's greatest World War II heroine and a prominent figure in the French Resistance known as the "The White Mouse" for her ability to evade the Germans, has died in London. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the woman who was once the Gestapo's most wanted person, was "a devastatingly effective saboteur and spy".

"Nancy Wake was a woman of exceptional courage and resourcefulness whose daring exploits saved the lives of hundreds of Allied personnel and helped bring the Nazi occupation of France to an end," Gillard said.

Wake, who died in a London hospital on Sunday just days short of her 99th birthday, was the nation's most decorated servicewoman from WWII, holding France's Legion d'Honneur, Britain's George Medal and the US Medal of Freedom.

Born in Wellington, New Zealand, she grew up in Australia and politicians in both countries led tributes to the woman who survived several firefights with the enemy, being shot at in a pursuit and a brief imprisonment during the war.

New Zealand's Veterans' Affairs Minister Judith Collins described Wake as "a woman of exceptional courage and tenacity, who cast aside all regard for her own safety and put the cause of freedom first".

Wake ran away from home aged 16 and by the early 1930s was living in Paris, where she worked as a journalist. Witnesses to the rise of fascism in Europe, Wake and her wealthy industrialist husband Henri Fiocca joined the fledgling Resistance after France's surrender in 1940. She once described a visit to Austria in 1933 as a first-hand look at Nazi cruelty.

"In Vienna they had a big wheel and they had the Jews tied to it, and the stormtroopers were there, whipping them. When we were going out of Vienna they took our photos. That was my experience of Hitler," Wake said.

Wake and her husband helped Allied servicemen and Jewish refugees escape into Spain before she took her partner's advice and fled to England in 1943, where she began work in special operations.
She parachuted back into France in April 1944 before D-Day, tasked with helping distribute weapons to Resistance fighters. "In those days it was safer, or a woman had more chance than a man, to get around, because the Germans were taking men out just like that," she later recounted.

Nancy never saw Fiocca again, learning only after the liberation of France that he had been killed by the Gestapo in August 1943.

Read the entire article, from from Yahoo! News here. Great Australian WWII heroine dies at 98 in London.

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