Nancy Wake in 2004; credit: Adam Butler/AP

Before James Bond, there was Nancy Wake. Except she was the real thing.

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake, who died recently at age 98, was one of WWII’s most dashing spies. New Zealand-born, Australia-reared, she abandoned her South Pacific roots at age 20 for a European-centric existence. She settled in London to work as a freelance journalist.

She was stationed in Paris as a European correspondent when WWII broke out and witnessed the atrocities of the Nazis first-hand. Her hatred for Hitler grew ever fiercer and after the fall of France she became a courier for the French Resistance.

It didn’t take long for the Gestapo to nickname her “White Mouse,” referring to her ability to elude capture. Her phones were tapped and her mail intercepted, and by 1943 the Gestapo put a five million-franc price on her head.

Nancy Wake in undated photo; Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

Gutsy doesn’t even begin to describe this lady. According to her biographer, Peter FitzSimons, she killed an SS sentry with her bare hands to keep him from raising the alarm during a raid. She also rode   more than 500 miles by bicycle through several German checkpoints to reestablish lines of communication with London lost in a counterattack by German forces.

Training reports state that she was “a very good and fast shot” and “put the men to shame by her cheerful spirit and strength of character.”

She was married twice but from what I’ve read didn’t seem to have had any children. That’s too bad. I can only imagine her grandchildren saying, “C’mon, Grandma! Tell us again about the time you escaped the Nazis by hiding in the back of a coal truck.”


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