The white mouse

This jour­nal­ist and war hero did it all with a G&T in one hand and her mid­dle fin­ger to the world on the other.

YEN - - MUSE -

She has gone by many names: born Nancy Wake, code-named ‘Madame An­dree’ by the Al­lies, branded ‘The White Mouse’ by Nazi troops and dubbed ‘Une Femme’ by the par­ti­sans who were ini­tially re­luc­tant to take or­ders from a woman. The only thing she has more of than names is ac­co­lades, which leads us to be­lieve that the most im­por­tant and his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate ti­tle for Nancy Wake is ‘ab­so­lute badass’.

She died in 2011 but not be­fore be­ing recog­nised as Aus­tralia’s most dec­o­rated ser­vice­woman. Wake used her charm, in­tel­lect and beauty to evade cap­ture through­out the en­tirety of World War II, all the while pulling off things usu­ally re­served for Marvel comics. Her bi­og­ra­pher Rus­sell Brad­don put it mildly when he de­scribed Wake as one part guer­rilla chief­tain and one part house­proud host­ess.

Born in Welling­ton, New Zealand, but raised in Syd­ney from the age of two, Wake was the youngest in a fam­ily of six. Wake ran away from home at 16 and even­tu­ally moved to Lon­don and then Paris in pur­suit of a ca­reer in jour­nal­ism. As World War II broke out, Wake was re­volted by the ide­ol­ogy of the Nazis and, dis­heart­ened by much of the French media’s ad­vice on how to ad­just to Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion rather than fight­ing it, took a more hands-on ap­proach to re­sis­tance. As Wake put it: “I hate wars and vi­o­lence but if they come then I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud good­bye and then knit them bal­a­clavas.” So, Wake turfed the sewing im­ple­ments and be­gun op­er­at­ing as a covert mes­sen­ger. She quickly grad­u­ated to the task of smug­gling Jewish fam­i­lies and other refugees out of oc­cu­pied France. Later in the war she re­turned to Bri­tain to get spe­cial ops train­ing and be­came an ex­pert in ex­plo­sives, weapons and hand-to-hand com­bat, mak­ing her re­sume an A4 page of sheer in­tim­i­da­tion. Cut to the next scene, with Wake parachut­ing back into France to as­sess the free­dom fight­ers and dis­trib­ute mu­ni­tions in the lead up to D-Day. In­stead of ar­gu­ing with men about the se­man­tics of be­ing a woman in charge, Wake sim­ply won their re­spect by drink­ing them un­der the ta­ble – she was known to down six gin and ton­ics a day.

She was fierce in way that is less Bey­oncé on the red car­pet and more Liam Nee­son with a kid­napped daugh­ter. Ac­cord­ing to one of her bi­og­ra­phers, Peter FitzSimons, she took down sol­diers with her bare hands, gunned her way through road­blocks and ped­dled a push­bike more than 500 kilo­me­tres through Nazi check­points to de­liver in­tel to the Al­lies.

Be­ing a self-taught jour­nal­ist is an ac­com­plish­ment, in­ad­ver­tently fronting a fem­i­nist move­ment is awe­some, earn­ing a spot on the Gestapo’s most-wanted list is ex­tra­or­di­nary/ter­ri­fy­ing, and the com­bi­na­tion makes Nancy Wake the most un­likely hero.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.