SOE Sisters No.1: Nancy Wake (#Fembruary2021)

I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.

Nancy Wake

Nancy Wake

  • Born: Wellington, New Zealand, 1912.
  • SOE Rank: Captain.
  • AKA: ‘Hélène’, ‘The White Mouse’.
  • Died: London, England, 2011.

It’s Fembruary and my first SOE agent is now operating under cover in France! One of five female WWII agents courtesy of Bad Squiddo Games, Nancy Wake was once described as;

“…a real Australian bombshell. Tremendous vitality, flashing eyes. Everything she did, she did well.” Training reports record that she was “a very good and fast shot” and possessed excellent fieldcraft. She was noted to “put the men to shame by her cheerful spirit and strength of character.”

Something of her independent spirit can be gleaned from how she ran away from home at the age of only 16. Living in France at the outset of WWII, she and her husband aided allied airmen to escape from France after 1940 until she eventually had to escape herself (something she was very good at – the Germans calling her ‘the white mouse’ because she kept slipping out of sight). Sadly, her French husband was captured, tortured and executed, a fact she only discovered at the end of the war. Her survival technique included her natural brazen self-confidence, Nancy later saying;

“A little powder and a little drink on the way, and I’d pass their (German) posts and wink and say, ‘Do you want to search me?’ God, what a flirtatious little bastard I was.”

The sculptor seems to have captured that nerve and poise with this pose. Nancy is attractively dressed and nonchalantly strolling on her way while casually examining her fingernails, but her hidden steel and deadliness is nicely represented by a dagger tucked away just out of sight by her side.

Alongside the Maquis, she certainly took part in a number of firefights and battles with the Germans, later confessing to reluctantly having to kill a sentry with her bare hands, in a manner she’d been trained repeatedly to use by the SOE.

Nancy survived the war and was decorated lavishly by a grateful UK, France, New Zealand, Australia and USA. She emigrated to Australia with her next husband, an RAF officer, where she unsuccessfully stood as a Liberal candidate in elections there.  After her 2nd husband died in 1997, Nancy returned to the UK where she lived at the Stafford Hotel in Piccadilly, London. Here she ‘would usually be found in the hotel bar, sipping her first gin and tonic of the day and telling war stories‘. She ended her days living at a home for disabled ex-servicemen and women until she passed away at the ripe old age of 98 in 2011.

So ends my humble salute to Nancy Wake of the Special Operations Executive. I have purchased some cheap plinths for my ladies which I will probably pop them on to them for a final post. In the meantime, my next instalment of these SOE sisters is hopefully coming soon!

Nancy Wake in uniform.

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