17/52 New Zealand – Nancy Wake

New Zealand-born Nancy Wake loved a good drink and handsome men, and hated nothing more than the Nazis.

Working as a freelance journalist in 1933, Wake travelled to Vienna to interview the German Chancellor, a man named Adolf Hitler. She saw Nazi brutality first hand, and developed a deep, deep hatred for the party, vowing to take them down. When World War Two broke out she joined the French Resistance as a Spy. One of her colleagues remarked “She is the most feminine woman I know until the fighting starts. Then she is like five men.”

Wake earned the nickname “White Mouse” for her ability to evade capture, and was at one time the Gestapo’s most wanted person. She flirted with border guards, slipped poison into enemy drinks and smuggled many jews and allied airman out of France.

In this episode I speak about the significance of Anzac Day with Alice Procter who (as you may remember from episode 05/52 of British Subjects) runs Uncomfortable Art Tours.

I interview Dr Jean Smith, a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow, about the migration of Commonwealth troops and Nancy Wake’s contribution to the war. In addition to the work she’s done, if you’re interested in migration history during WWII Jean recommends
Ashley Jackson, who she works with at Kings College.

And finally, I had the great pleasure of speaking to Sumitra Tikaram, who served in the FANY Corps. Sumi was a personal friend of Nancy Wake, and hosted her when she moved to London.

For a Hollywood version of this story you could watch Charlotte Grey (I haven’t). If you really want the real story, the best thing to read is Nancy Wake’s own account, The White Mouse, there is a documentary of the same name which includes interviews with her:

And this dramatised documentary:

British Subjects is produced by Anna Rose Kerr.