Nancy Wake was given the moniker, “the White Mouse” by the Germans during World War II, for her uncanny ability to escape out of any trap. However, the glamorous female agent of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), was deadly; in one instance she killed an SS guard, taking him out with her bare hands to stop him from raising an alarm.

She was fearless, brave, and bloodthirsty once the fighting began. She was quoted after the war as saying,  “In my opinion, the only good German was a dead German, and the deader, the better. I killed a lot of Germans, and I am only sorry I didn’t kill more.” 

So, although she was known as the White Mouse, she was a very dangerous operative and helped numerous Allied airmen avoid capture in occupied France. She was also one of Winston Churchill’s most highly decorated special agents. The Germans put a price of five million francs on her head. They never paid…

Wake was born Roseneath, in Wellington, New Zealand, on 30 August 1912, and was the youngest of six children. She had Māori ancestry through her great-grandmother Pourewa, who was believed to be one of the first Māori women to marry a European. After moving to Australia in 1914, her father, returned to New Zealand and her mother was left to raise the children.

At the age of 16, she ran away from home and worked as a nurse. With £200 that she had inherited from an aunt, she traveled alone to New York City, then London where she trained herself as a journalist.

Between the wars, she worked in Paris and later for Hearst newspapers as a European correspondent. She witnessed the rise of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler while reporting on the coming storm when she “saw roving Nazi gangs randomly beating Jewish men and women in the streets” of Vienna.

In 1938 she married the wealthy French industrialist Henri Fiocca. They were living in Marseille when France fell. She was at first an ambulance driver despite being a horrible driver. Living in Vichy, France, she joined the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow, which became known as the Pat O’Leary Line. 

The Germans suspected her for quite some time, her phone was bugged and her mail opened. In November 1942 when the Allies invaded North Africa, the Germans overran the Vichy. Her Resistance organization was compromised and betrayed. She had to flee France, while her husband chose to remain behind. The Gestapo arrested, tortured and later executed Henri, something for which she would blame herself for the remainder of her life.