Nancy Wake (1912–2011) was someone you don’t ever forget. Her personality, exploits, and courage will stick with you long after reading this book.
The bibliography is a short one. The author didn’t need a whole lot of reference material because several books on her biography were already in print, Nancy’s memoirs were published in 1985 (The White Mouse), and a series of personal interviews with Nancy were completed before she passed away. Despite the many renditions of her wartime stories, this was a book that I couldn’t put down. This story has everything a Hollywood movie needs to be a hit (several foreign made television mini-series were made). These are episodes that would have made the Movietone News reels during the war if Nancy’s stories hadn’t been classified secret.
This was one remarkable woman. She became one of the highest decorated World War II combatants for her contributions as a member of the French Resistance (Nancy was born in Australia but considered herself as a citizen of New Zealand) and a foreign agent working for the British led spy operation, Special Operations Executive (SOE).
Nancy began her resistance activities as a courier. She was recruited to set up networks of safe houses for downed Allied pilots to follow for safe passage back to London. She was also responsible for maintaining the safe houses along what was known as the O’Leary Line (similar to the “Underground Railroad” or the route Southern slaves took to freedom in the North). By the end of her period with the Resistance, she was actively guiding escaped POWs, refugees, and Allied airmen over the Pyrenees to neutral Spain.
Because of her activities, Nancy became well known to the Nazis and in particular, the Gestapo. Their code name for her was “The White Mouse” due to her ability to slip away easily from the clutch of their brutal grasp. Nancy was able to successfully get back to London despite her network being compromised by a double agent. While in London, she joined the SOE and was trained as a foreign agent.
The SOE dropped her off in France in early 1944 with the responsibility for working with Le Maquis, bands of French guerillas working out of the forests, mountains, and rural French territories. Their missions were to disrupt the Germans. Nancy eventually won the respect of even the hardest veterans and she took charge of thousands. The work of the Maquis was mentioned by General Eisenhower as a decisive reason why the D-Day landings were a success. Throughout these adventures, The White Mouse managed to always stay one step ahead of the Nazis.
Her work did come with personal drama. Nancy’s beloved husband was arrested, tortured, and executed by the Gestapo during the time Nancy was in London. The Gestapo wanted to find his wife and was convinced he knew where she was. Henri never talked and she never forgave herself.
Author: Fitzsimons, Peter
Date Published: 2001
Publisher: Harper CollinsPublishers; Australia
Page Count: 390 (paperback)