View Full Version : The White Mouse

12-16-2005, 06:48 AM
Nancy Wake
Full name Nancy Grace Augusta Wake. AKA 'The White Mouse'.

Country: New Zealand, France, Britain, Australia.

Cause: Liberation of France and the defeat of European fascism in the Second World War.

Background: As Germany rises from the deprivations of the First World War and the Great Depression, the rest of the world tries to ignore the threat posed by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party. But when Hitler launches his invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 the world finally realises that the Germans will not be appeased. Two days later Britain and France declare war on Germany.

Mini biography: Born on 30 August 1912 in Wellington, New Zealand, she is the youngest of six children. Her father is a journalist/editor.

1914 - Wake's family moves to Sydney, Australia. Her father will later abandon his family and return to New Zealand, leaving Wake's mother to raise the children.

1928 - Wake leaves home to work as a nurse.

1932 - When an aunt from New Zealand sends her some money she travels to London, then Europe, where from her base in France she works as a freelance journalist for the Hearst newspaper group. Among her assignments is an interview with Hitler in 1933.

1933 - The Nazis reach a position from which they can seize power in Germany on 30 January when Hitler is appointed chancellor. Following the Reichstag fire on 27 February basic civil rights are suspended and the Nazis are given the right to quash political opposition.

Germany's last election until after the Second World War is held on 5 March. Though the Nazis win only 44% of the vote Hitler persuades the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Law, allowing him to govern independently of the parliament for four years. The Nazis now take full control of the state apparatus.

Meanwhile, during an assignment in Vienna, the capital of Austria, Wake witnesses the impact of the Nazi regime first hand, including the persecution of Jews and other minorities.

"The stormtroopers had tied the Jewish people up to massive wheels," she later recounts. "They were rolling the wheels along, and the stormtroopers were whipping the Jews. I stood there and thought, 'I don't know what I'll do about it, but if I can do anything one day, I'll do it.' And I always had that picture in my mind, all through the war."

1936 - In March Germany remilitarises the Rhineland, in direct contravention of the Treaty of Versailles signed at the end of the First World War. France protests the move but takes no further action. In 1938 France will also accede to Germany's annexation of Austria in March and of the Sudetenland, the German-speaking area in the north of Czechoslovakia, in September.

1939 - German troops invade Poland on 1 September. Britain and France declare war on Germany two days later. The Second World War has begun.

Poland is overrun within a month, with Germany taking the west of the country and the Soviets occupying the east.

Wake is in Britain when the war breaks out, but returns to France. On 30 November she marries the wealthy French industrialist Henri Fiocca. The couple set up house in Marseilles.

Wake will soon be involved in the war effort, purchasing and driving a vehicle that she uses as an ambulance and to supply refugee camps ahead of the front line.

1940 - Denmark and Norway fall in April. The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France are invaded the following month. By June France has surrendered and all of Western Europe is in the hands of the Germans.

Beginning from 10 July, the 'Battle of Britain' rages in the skies as the British Royal Air Force (RAF) desperately combats wave after wave of aerial attacks and bombing raids by the Luftwaffe while launching counteroffensive bombing missions into Germany.

Though outnumbered by four to one the RAF is able to inflict enough damage to the German forces to cause Hitler to suspend 'Operation Sealion', the proposed invasion of Britain by sea. By the end of September, the 'Battle of Britain' is effectively over. Germany has suffered its first major defeat of the war. About 14,000 British civilians have died in the German raids.

In France the armed forces are demobilised and the government dissolved. Administration of the country is split, with the Germans taking control of the northern two-thirds and a new French government being given the remaining third in the south. Based at Vichy in the Auvergne region of central France and headed by Marshal Henri Pétain, the French administration comes to be known as the 'Vichy Government'.

Under the occupation France will be forced to supply Germany with hundreds of thousands of labourers and more material aid than any other German satellite. The Vichy Government will also prove itself ruthless in its treatment of opponents and Jews, with about 75,000 mostly foreign-born Jews being arrested and sent to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps.

Resistance to the Vichy Government and the German occupation quickly takes shape, supported by a London-based government-in-exile set up by General Charles de Gaulle.

As the war progresses Wake becomes increasingly involved in the French Resistance movement, taking advantage of her privileged social position first as a courier, then as a member of the Allied Escape Route Organisation in occupied France. In this position she will help hundreds of escaped prisoners of war, survivors of the Dunkerque evacuation of Allied troops, political refugees, and downed Allied fliers seeking safe passage out of France through to Spain.

1941 - Germany invades the Soviet Union on 22 June. The Germans advance swiftly but are halted on 6 December by a Russian counterattack just short of Moscow.

After the Japanese attack the United States Navy at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii on 7 December the US enters the war.

1942 - The Gestapo, or German secret state police, come to suspect that Wake is member of the Resistance movement, but are unable to prove her involvement. Her activities are attributed by the Gestapo to an unidentified agent who, in recognition of Wake's ability to evade detection and capture, they code-name 'The White Mouse'. By 1943 'The White Mouse' will be listed as number one on the Gestapo's most wanted list, attracting a five million franc reward.

Meanwhile, on 20 January the Nazis complete the planning for the Endlosung (Final Solution), the extermination of the Jews, Gipsies, Slavs, homosexuals, communists, and other "undesirables" and "decadents" in death camps controlled by the Gestapo and run by the Schutz-Staffel (SS) - the 'Blackshirts', Hitler's personal guard. About six million European Jews die in the following 'Holocaust'. Most (about 4.5 million) of those killed come from Poland and the Soviet Union. About 125,000 are German Jews. The Holocaust also claims about 500,000 Gipsies.

In November the Germans occupy the southern third of France administered by the Vichy Government.

The following month Wake's Resistance network is betrayed and she is forced to go into hiding. The Resistance subsequently decides the risks have become too high for Wake and she should return to Britain. After six attempts to cross the Pyrenees mountains into Spain, including one where she is captured by the French Milice (Vichy militia) in Toulouse and interrogated for four days, she makes it out to Britain via Barcelona, Madrid, then Gibraltar. Her husband Henri remains in France.

Back in Britain, Wake joins the French Section of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), a unit of about 470 specially trained men and women set up to work with local Resistance groups in the German occupied territories.

Wake and her colleagues in the SOE receive training in survival skills, armed and unarmed combat, explosives, Morse Code and radio operation, surveillance, and night parachuting.

Officially Wake is assigned as a captain in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY).

1943 - The military turning point of the war in Europe comes with the Soviet victory at Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in the winter of 1942-43. When the German forces laying siege to the city are encircled and trapped by a Soviet counteroffensive, Hitler refuses to allow them to attempt an escape. They surrender on 2 February 1943.

Almost 500,000 Soviet troops have died during the Stalingrad campaign. A further 600,000 have been wounded. The German Sixth Army has been effectively destroyed in what is at the time the most catastrophic military defeat in German history. Over 500,000 of the German-led troops are dead. By the end of the year, the Soviets have broken through the German siege of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) and recaptured much of the Ukrainian Republic.

The German offensive in North Africa is stopped at the beginning of November 1942 when Allied troops led by General Bernard Law Montgomery force the German Afrika Korps led by General Erwin Rommel into a retreat. By 13 May 1943 275,000 Germans and Italians have surrendered. The war in North Africa is over, leaving the Allies free to land in Sicily and Italy.

To the west, the US and British navies gain control of the Atlantic shipping lanes, clearing the way for the 'D-Day' landings on the Normandy beaches in France on 6 June 1944 and the invasion of Germany six months later. Soviet troops meanwhile advance from the east.

In the skies over Germany the Allied air forces intensify their bombing raids. The strategy of indiscriminate carpet bombing will kill an estimated 600,000 civilians, including about 75,000 children.

The Nazis call for "total war" against the Allies.

1944 - On 29 April Wake and another SOE operative, Major John Farmer, are parachuted into the Auvergne region of central France to help organise and lead the 7,000-strong 'Maquis' Resistance fighters in preparation for the D-Day invasion on 6 June.

"Over civilian clothes, silk-stockinged and high-heeled, I wore overalls, carried revolvers in the pockets, and topped the lot with a bulky camel-haired coat, webbing harness, parachute and tin hat," she later writes of the experience.

Under the alias of Madame Andrée, Wake organises parachute supply drops, collects and distributes weapons, and ensures that radio contact is maintained with the SOE in Britain. She also participates in the guerrilla warfare leading up to and following D-Day, including sabotage raids on German installations and an attack on the local Gestapo headquarters in Montlucon.

When the supply drops are threatened by the destruction of radio codes following a German offensive, Wake embarks on a marathon bike ride, cycling about 500 km in 72 hours and crossing several German checkpoints, in order to find an operator to radio Britain and request new codes.

One of her comrades in the Resistance, Henri Tardivat, later describes Wake as "the most feminine woman I know, until the fighting starts. Then, she is like five men."

According to Wake, "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."

The advancing Allied forces liberate Paris on 25 August. Soon after the Germans are driven from France. However the victory is clouded with tragedy for Wake when she learns that her husband Henri had been captured, tortured and executed by the Germans after she left France in 1943.

General de Gaulle quickly takes charge of the political situation in liberated France, setting up a new provisional government. Former German collaborators face rough justice, with about 10,000 being executed and 40,000 sent to prison. Vichy Government leader Marshal Henri Pétain is tried and sentenced to death, though his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment. His deputy, Pierre Laval, is tried and executed.

1945 - By March, as the Western forces reach the Rhine River, Soviet armies have overrun most of Eastern Europe and are converging on Berlin. The Soviets march under the slogan, "There will be no pity. They have sown the wind and now they are harvesting the whirlwind."

Few are spared. As the Soviets move through Germany they rape at least two million German women in an undisciplined advance that is now acknowledged as the largest case of mass rape in history.

By April an Allied victory in Europe is certain. Berlin falls to the Soviet forces on 2 May. On 7 May Germany surrenders unconditionally. The Second World War officially ends on 2 September when Japan formally signs documents of unconditional surrender.

Over 46 million Europeans have died as a result of the war, including:

Over 26 million Soviets,
Over seven million Germans,
About 6.8 million Poles,
Between one million and 1.7 million Yugoslavs,
985,000 Romanians,
810,000 French,
750,000 Hungarians,
525,000 Austrians,
520,000 Greeks,
410,000 Italians,
400,000 Czechs,
388,000 British,
250,000 Dutch,
88,000 Belgians,
84,000 Fins,
22,000 Spaniards,
21,000 Bulgarians,
10,000 Norwegians, and
4,000 Danes.
Beginning in November 1945, 22 surviving Nazi leaders considered responsible for the crimes committed by Germany during the war are tried before an international military tribunal sitting in Nuremberg. Among those brought before the tribunal are Hermann G¶ring, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Rudolf Hess, and Albert Speer. Twelve of the accused are sentenced to death, seven receive prison sentences, and three are acquitted.

Following the high-profile Nuremberg trials, lower-ranking Nazi war criminals are also brought to justice.

Meanwhile, Wake's contribution to the war effort will be recognised with numerous medals and awards, including the George Medal from Britain (awarded 17 July 1945), the Médaille de la Résistance, Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (awarded 1988) and three Croix de Guerre (two with bronze palms and one with a silver star) from France, and the Medal of Freedom (with a bronze palm) from the US, making her the most decorated servicewoman of the Second World War.

1946 - Wake is appointed as executive officer in the British Foreign Office attached to the embassies in Paris and Prague. She will remain in the position until 1948.

1948 - Wake resigns from the Foreign Office and returns to Sydney, arriving in January 1949.

1949 - She stands as a Liberal Party candidate for the Sydney seat of Barton in the Australian Federal election but is beaten by the incumbent and Labor Party deputy leader, Herbert Vere Evatt.

1951 - Unable to find suitable employment in Australia, Wake returns to Britain, where is appointed as a Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF) officer in the Department of the Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Intelligence) of the British Air Ministry. She will remain in this post until 1958.

1957 - Wake marries John Forward, a former British prisoner of war. The couple move to Malta, where Forward is stationed.

1960 - Wake and her husband return to Australia to live, settling in Port Macquarie on the North Coast of New South Wales.

1985 - She publishes her autobiography, 'The Autobiography of the Woman the Gestapo Called the White Mouse'.

1997 - Wakes second husband, John, dies.

2001 - On 6 December Wake leaves Australia for good to spend the remainder of her life in Europe. She lives in the Stafford Hotel in London hotel on the proceeds from the sale of the medals. When these funds run out she receives financial assistance from her many admirers, including Britain's Prince Charles.

"There was no point in keeping them," she says of selling her medals. "When I die, I'll probably go to hell and they'd melt anyway. My only condition is when I die, I want my ashes scattered over the hills where I fought alongside all those men."

2003 - Wake suffers a heart attack but survives.

2004 - On 22 February Wake is appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in recognition of her "significant contribution and commitment" during the war.

She now lives in the Royal Star and Garter Home for ex-servicemen in Richmond, West London, helped by a carer paid for by the Australian government.

Comment: The resistance to the Nazi invasion of France was a movement of many heroes. In the French Section of the SOE alone, 91 men and 13 women gave their lives in the battle against the fascists. Other SOE members like Odette Sansom endured torture and the prospect of death in Nazi concentration camps. French Resistance leader Jean Moulin died on 8 July 1943 after being captured and tortured by the Gestapo. He is now considered a French national hero. Many other French Resistance fighters also perished. Nancy Wake is a symbol of their struggle and their sacrifice.

"I hate wars and violence," she has said, "But if they come I don't see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas."

12-16-2005, 10:25 AM
excellent, Fritz...thanks for that post

12-16-2005, 08:20 PM
Here's another interesting one from Shotdownski.