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|Volume 10 |Issue 31 | August 12, 2011 ||
Nancy Wake: WWII spy, Courier, Saboteur, Heroine, Humanitarian and Friend
SIR FRANK PETERS
As age climbs upon us one of the greatest tragedies we suffer from time to time is the loss of a dear and special friend and more often than not it comes unexpectedly, when we're least prepared. Such a person died in London this week.
The fact she was 98 is immaterial, some people should never die, and Nancy Wake won't in many respects. Nancy was not just my friend, but Australia's and New Zealand's greatest World War II heroine; and a friend to countless millions who owe their lives to her.
During World War II she was a spy, courier, and saboteur for the French Resistance and known as “The White Mouse” for her ability to remain undetected. Her activities skyrocketed her to Number One on the Gestapo's most wanted list with a five million-franc price on her head, dead or alive.
I once said to her, to do what you did you must have had nerves of steel and she replied: “More like corrugated aluminum sheets and good luck!”
Nancy was born in New Zealand, but her family emigrated to Australia when she was a child. She ran away from home and became a nurse for a short time. Then moved on to work as a journalist in Europe where in 1937 she met French businessman Henri Fiocca and married him two years later.
Trapped in France when the Nazis invaded, she became a Resistance courier and later a saboteur and spy. Betrayed by Nazi collaborators, she narrowly escaped the clutches of the Gestapo, certain torture and death, and made her exit to London via the French Underground. Her husband Henri was captured, tortured and executed by the Gestapo on 16 October 1943. She was not aware of his death until the war was over.
In London she bravely joined Churchill's Special Operations Executive (a clandestine organisation, few people were openly aware of its existence), parachuted back into France, and became a liaison between London and French Resistance groups.
Her exceptional efforts did not go unnoticed. Her catalogue of honours included Britain's George Medal, America's Medal of Freedom, the Croix de Guerre from France and in 2004 she was made Companion of the Order of Australia.
If we are to judge spies by the images portrayed in movies, Nancy was the antithesis. I first came to know her in the 1980s when we were guests on a national radio show. We were brought together by the condemnation we shared for the tasteless coffee we were served in the Green Room (reception area) at the radio station.
We instantly 'clicked' when it became known we shared a friend, Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop, whom we both admired beyond description. We planned getting together one evening for a meal, but it never happened. Sir Edward was the most famous ex-prisoner of war, of World War II's Burma railway fame and up to the present day, the only real gentleman I've ever known.
Nancy and I worked on charity projects together, she always wanting to do more than I would allow, she being several years my senior and I considerate of her health and financial status. She was a very kind and bighearted lady who put everyone else first, even at the expense of her own health. Throughout her life she touched the hearts and souls of countless people, always wanting and willing to help. The world mourns her loss.
The true worth of a person's friendship cannot be measured until the person has died, unfortunately by that time it's too late to express thanks or your love for them.
Fortunately, my conscience is clear, I did that frequently while she was alive.
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