‘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 northern Auvergne, just before the D-Day landings in 1944. On one occasion, she strangled an SS sentry with her bare hands. On another, she cycled 500 miles to replace lost codes. In June 1944, she led her fighters in an attack on the Gestapo headquarters at Montlucon in central France.
Work began earlier this month on a feature film about Nancy Wake’s life. Ms Wake, one of the models for Sebastian Faulks’ fictional heroine, Charlotte Gray, had mixed feelings about previous cinematic efforts to portray her wartime exploits, including a TV mini-series made in 1987.
“It was well-acted but in parts it was extremely stupid,” she said. “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? 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.”
Ms Wake was also furious the TV series suggested she had had a love affair with one of her fellow fighters. She was too busy killing Nazis for amorous entanglements, she said.
Even before she escaped to Britain, through Spain, in 1943 to train as a guerrilla leader, Nancy had been top of the Gestapo’s French “wanted” list. With her husband, she ran a resistance network which helped to smuggle Jews and allied airmen out of the country.
Nancy recalled later in life that her parachute had snagged in a tree. The French resistance fighter who freed her said he wished all trees bore “such beautiful fruit”. Nancy retorted: “Don’t give me that French shit.”’