Miss Nancy G A Wake
30 August 1912 - 07 August 2011
Resident at The Royal Star & Garter Home – Richmond since 9th June 2003
One of the Royal Star & Garter Homes’ most famous residents, Nancy Wake, has sadly passed away. Nancy moved into our Richmond Home in June 2003 and we are honoured to have cared for her over eight happy years of her life.
Nancy’s amazing story has been told in books, newspapers, the film Charlotte Gray, and numerous internet sites – she is familiar to many people across the globe.
Nancy was born in Wellington, New Zealand on August 30th 1912. When she was two years old her family moved to Sydney, Australia, where she was raised by her mother after her father abandoned the family when she was four years old. Nancy worked as a nurse before an inheritance from an aunt enabled her to leave home in 1931 to fulfil her dream of travelling to New York, London, and Paris.
After studying journalism in London she became a correspondent for The Chicago Tribune in Paris and reported on the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. Indeed, one of her early assignments was to interview Adolf Hitler!
When WWII broke out in 1939, she was living in the French city of Marseille with her first husband, Henri Fiocca, a wealthy steel industrialist. After the fall of France in the 1940s, she became a courier for the French Resistance setting up escape routes for thousands of Allied soldiers and airmen. By 1943, she was the Gestapo’s most-wanted person known by them as “The White Mouse” (due to her ability to escape detection). There was a 5 million franc price on her head and when the network was betrayed she had to flee Marseille. Her husband, Henri Fiocca, stayed behind and was later captured, tortured and executed by the Gestapo for refusing to reveal her whereabouts. She was not aware of his death until the war was over. Nancy was arrested in Toulouse, but was released four days later as the authorities did not know her true identity. After five unsuccessful attempts, she succeeded in crossing the Pyrenees to Spain and travelled on to England.
On reaching Britain Nancy joined the Special Operations Executive and in 1944 returned to occupied France, being parachuted into the Auvergne to become link between London and the local maquis group headed by Captain Henri Tardivat. She coordinated resistance activity prior to the Normandy invasion and recruited more resistance fighters.
She also led attacks on German installations and the local Gestapo HQ in Montlucon. From April 1944 to the complete liberation of France, her 7,000 maquisards fought 22,000 SS soldiers, inflicting 1,400 casualties, while taking only 100 themselves.
France decorated her with its highest military honour, the Legion d’Honneur, as well as three Croix de Guerre and the Medaille de la Resistance. The United States awarded her its Medal of Freedom, and Britain presented her with the George Medal. In 2004 Australia made her a Companion of the Order of Australia.
Nancy returned to Australia after the war and stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate in the 1949 and 1951 federal elections. She then returned to Europe where she married her second husband, former RAF fighter pilot John Forward, and went back to Australia with him in the 1960s. She moved back to Britain four years after his death in 1997.
She lived the first two years of her life back in London at the Stafford Hotel in Piccadilly, enjoying gin and tonics every afternoon at her specially-reserved seat in the downstairs bar until 2003 when she moved to The Royal Star & Garter Home in Richmond. There she enjoyed the wide range of events and activities, particularly Music Club on Tuesday evenings, and continued to love a good party!
Even though Nancy was admitted to Kingston Hospital for the last few days of her life, the Home’s staff continued to give direct and loving support, and all of the Star & Garter family will miss her terribly.