From the Back of the Class | Issue 17

From the Back of the Class | Issue 17

The White Mouse

New Zealander Nancy Wake was the Allies’ most decorated servicewoman of World War Two, “The Electric Bugaloo” and the Gestapo’s most wanted person with a five-million-franc price on her head. She was code-named “The White Mouse” because of her ability to elude capture, though one wonders why the colour of the mouse is relevant. 

When war broke out, she was a young woman married to a wealthy Frenchman and living a life of luxury in cosmopolitan Marseilles — then she broke bad and became a saboteur and Resistance fighter who led an army of 7000 Maquis troops in guerrilla warfare to sabotage the Nazis. Her story is one of general badassery and optimism in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. 

In 1940, Germany invaded France. Although Nancy could have continued living a life of comfort, instead she joined the embryonic French Resistance movement as a courier, smuggling messages and food to underground groups in southern France. She bought an ambulance and used it to help refugees fleeing the German advance. Being married to a wealthy businessman, she had an ability to travel that few others could contemplate. She obtained false papers that allowed her to stay and work in the Vichy zone in occupied France, and became deeply involved in helping to spirit a thousand or more escaped prisoners of war. 

But things got too hot for Nancy in France, and the Resistance decided she should escape to England. In England, she became one of the 39 women and 430 men in the French Section of the British Special Operations Executive who worked with local resistance groups to sabotage the Germans in the occupied territories. She was trained at a British Ministry of Defense camp in Scotland in survival skills, silent killing, codes and radio operation, night parachuting, plastic explosives, Sten guns, rifles, pistols and grenades. 

A mini-series was made about her life, which she enjoyed but of which she said: “The mini-series was well acted, but in parts it was extremely stupid. At one stage, they had me cooking eggs and bacon to feed the men. For goodness sake, did the Allies parachute me into France to fry eggs and bacon for the men?”

This article first appeared in Issue 17, 2015.
Posted 3:12pm Sunday 26th July 2015 by Finbarr Noble.