'White Mouse', the feisty heroine of the resistance, dies


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By John Lichfieldin paris

Nancy Wake, "the White Mouse" and the most decorated woman of the 1939-45 war, disliked people messing around with her life story. Small wonder. It was an extraordinary story and an extraordinary life.

Ms Wake, who has died in London just before her 99th birthday, was a New Zealander brought up in Australia. She became a nurse, a journalist who interviewed Adolf Hitler, a wealthy French socialite, a British agent and a French resistance leader. She led 7,000 guerrilla fighters in battles against the Nazis in the Auvergne in 1944. On one occasion, she strangled an SS sentry with her bare hands.

Work began earlier this month on a film about Nancy Wake's life, but Ms Wake had mixed feelings about previous cinematic efforts to portray her exploits, including a TV mini-series made in 1987.

"At one stage they had me cooking eggs and bacon to feed the men," she said. "For goodness sake, did the Allies parachute me into France to fry eggs and bacon for the men? There wasn't an egg to be had for love nor money. Even if there had been why would I be frying it? I had men to do that sort of thing."

Even before she escaped France to Britain in 1943, Ms Wake had been top of the Gestapo's French "wanted" list. With her French husband, she ran a resistance network which helped to smuggle Jews and allied airmen out of the country.

In London, she became one of 39 women recruited into the French Section of the British Special Operations Executive. She was parachuted back into France in April 1944. Ms Wake recalled that her parachute had snagged in a tree. The French resistance fighter who freed her said that he wished that all trees bore "such beautiful fruit". Nancy retorted: "Don't give me that French s***."