Your browser is not supported. For the best experience, you should upgrade to a modern browser with improved speed and security.

Nancy Wake: The Resistance Hero and British Spy Who Topped the Gestapo's Most Wanted List

The Nazis had a 5 million-franc bounty on the head of the spy known as the "White Mouse."

In 1943, Nazi authorities were on the hunt for a spy they had nicknamed the "White Mouse" because of her ability to evade their capture, no matter what trap they set. The Gestapo had declared her their most wanted person, and placed a 5 million-franc bounty on her head. Their quarry was Nancy Wake, one of Britain's Special Operations Executive's most capable secret agents. Famous for her fearlessness, Wake would continue to evade her pursuers for the rest of the war, at one point even hurling herself from a train window to escape capture, and eventually become one of the Allies' most decorated servicewomen of World War II.

Born in New Zealand in 1912, Wake grew up in Australia but ran away from home at the age of 16 to become a nurse. She used an inheritance from an aunt to travel to New York, then to London where she trained herself as a journalist. Her next stop was Paris, where she worked for a variety of news outlets during the 1930s. As a European correspondent, she witnessed "roving Nazi gangs randomly beating Jewish men and women in the streets" in Vienna. She and her husband, Henri Fiocca, were living in Marseille when Germany invaded France, trapping them in the country. Undaunted, Wake became a courier for the French Resistance and helped stranded British military personnel escape capture and return to the UK.  Her network was so efficient that the Gestapo placed her on their most wanted list with a huge bounty on her head.

When the local resistance network was betrayed in 1943, Wake fled Marseille; her husband remained behind to settle the family business and was captured and executed by the Gestapo after he refused to disclose her location. Wake later told The Australian how easy it was to get past German patrols as she traveled through France: "A little powder and a little drink on the way, and I'd pass their posts and wink and say, 'Do you want to search me?'" She was arrested in Toulouse, but was released four days later because the Gestapo didn’t realize her true identity. From Toulouse, she tried to escape numerous times into neutral Spain, but each of these attempts were thwarted by German patrols. Finally, on her seventh attempt, Wake was able to cross into Spain while buried in the back of a coal truck.

From Spain, Wake made her way to Britain, where she was recruited by the Special Operations Executive, the British organization dedicated to conducting espionage and aiding resistance movements in Nazi-occupied territory. Wake distinguished herself in training, and reports noted that she was "a very good and fast shot." She parachuted back into France in April 1944, less than a year after her daring escape. Wake’s instructions were to help the Resistance prepare to assist the Allied invasion, and she dedicated herself to building up various resistance groups into a cohesive fighting force. With her leadership, this group of 7,500 French Resistance guerrilla fighters assaulted factories and communications stations and, in one encounter, successfully defeated over 22,000 German soldiers sent to wipe them out.

After the war, Wake was honored by Australia, France, Great Britain, and the U.S. for her service. She continued to work as an intelligence officer and also tried her hand at politics. Before she passed away in London in 2011 at the age of 98, she published her autobiography, The White Mouse, and saw her story featured in several TV shows and movies, including a 1987 made for TV movie called Nancy Wake. She scoffed at her portrayal in that film, however, which showed her cooking breakfast and getting romantically involved with another resistance member. "For goodness sake, did the Allies parachute me into France to fry eggs and bacon for the men?" she said. "There wasn’t an egg to be had for love nor money, and even if there had been, why would I be frying it when I had men to do that sort of thing?"

Books About Daring Women of World War II

The Whispering Town

The Whispering Town

Written by: Jennifer Elvgren
Illustrated by: Fabio Santomauro
Recommended Age: 6 - 9

In Denmark, the Resistance successfully saved nearly the entire Jewish population across the sea to safety in Sweden, and this picture book captures the suspense and heroism of this incredibly brave act. Anett's family lives in a small Danish fishing village, and they're concealing Carl and his aging mama, the last pair they need to get aboard a fishing boat and to safety. But with the occupying soldiers getting suspicious, and a cloudy sky that will prevent Carl from seeing which way is safe from patrols, it takes Anett's clever idea of a chain of whispers to smuggle them safely to the harbor.

Irena's Jars of Secrets

Irena's Jars of Secrets

Written by: Marcia Vaughan
Illustrated by: Ron Mazellan
Recommended Age: 6 - 10

In Poland's Warsaw Ghetto during WWII, a young nurse and social worker went about her daily work, caring for the sick — and smuggling Jewish children out to safety. Irena Sendler knew what she was risking, but she couldn't bear to watch children suffer and do nothing. And after every child was safe — over 2,500 children in total — she meticulously recorded their name in hopes that, someday, they could be reunited with their families. This emotional picture book captures Sendler's remarkable heroism in the face of unthinkable consequences.

Skylark and Wallcreeper

Skylark and Wallcreeper

Written by: Anne O'Brien Carelli
Recommended Age: 9 - 12

In 2012, Lily waits with at a New York City nursing home with her French-born grandmother Collette as Hurricane Sandy approaches. When the National Guards show up to evacuate them, her grandmother gives her a Montblanc pen that she's hidden in her closet for years, telling her to keep it safe. After Lily loses the pen while helping other residents, she ends up searching the city trying to find it. Along the way, stumbles into the 1944 story of young Collette, a baker's daughter in occupied France who disguises herself as a boy and works for the Resistance. Part modern survival story, part historical spy thriller, this fast-paced story explores the importance of family and friends at the most difficult times.

Resistance

Resistance

Written by: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Recommended Age: 12 and up

In 1942 Nazi-occupied Poland, Jewish teenager Chaya Lindner is determined to fight the evil destroying her life... even in the face of overwhelming odds. She escapes the Kraków Ghetto where her family is imprisoned and joins the Jewish resistance as a courier. She learns about a planned uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto to fight Nazis' efforts to transport the remaining survivors of the ghetto to death camps. Like her fellow resisters, Chaya knows that there is no possibility that they will 'win' this fight, but they hope to save as many lives as possible, and to live — or die — on their own terms. This powerful historical fiction novel by the author of A Night Divided about the largest single revolt by Jews during WWII explores the Holocaust from the rarely-discussed perspective of Jewish resistance fighters through the story of one heroic young woman.

Women Heroes of World War II

32 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue

Women Heroes of World War II

32 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue

Written by: Kathryn J. Atwood
Recommended Age: 12 and up

During World War II, women around the world stood up to protect those they could, doing everything from transmitting radio messages from occupied France, to hiding Jewish families or smuggling them out of dangerous territory, to conducting sabotage missions throughout Europe. Kathryn J. Atwood tells some of their stories in this book, showing how these women, from many nations and backgrounds, each took tremendous risks to fight the battles that they were not permitted to fight on the front. A companion book, Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater, tells the stories of women's contributions in China, Japan, Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines.

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity

Written by: Elizabeth Wein
Recommended Age: 13 and up

In World War II England, two young women become unlikely friends. One is a pilot, a new member of Britain's Air Transport Auxiliary; one is a spy, destined to assist the resistance in France. When one woman has to eject from their malfunctioning plane and is captured by the Gestapo, she steels herself for the brutality of an interrogation. But do they have the pilot, or the spy? And will Verity manage to keep Britain's secrets, or does her capture risk everything? Readers will devour this suspenseful and richly detailed book... and then go back to the beginning to look for the hints and clues they missed on the first read. Fans of this book will want to check out the companion novel, Rose Under Fire, and the prequel, The Pearl Thief.

Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany

Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany

Recommended Age: Adults

Marthe Cohn's French Jewish family sheltered those who were fleeing the rise of the Nazis, including children sent away by their parents. And then suddenly, they too were at risk: Germany invaded, her sister was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, and the rest of her family was forced to flee. Marthe, however, used her perfect German accent and blonde hair to serve the intelligence service of the French First Army, playing the role of a German nurse looking for her fiance — and funneling what sympathetic soldiers told her back to Allied commanders. This remarkable memoir details her story — which not even her children knew until she was awarded the Médaille Militaire at the age of 80 — and how an ordinary young woman became a hero.

D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II

D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II

Written by: Sarah Rose
Recommended Age: Adults

In the midst of World War II, it appeared that the Nazis were unstoppable — especially with almost every man in England already fighting on the front. So the Special Operations Executive took a bold step and recruited women as spies. Thirty-nine women answered their call, including Andrée Borrel, Odette Sansom, and Lise de Baissac. In D-Day Girls author Sarah Rose draws on recently declassified documents, diaries, and more to create a compelling portrait of these three women and their motivations for risking everything in order to make the D-Day invasion possible — and pave the way for the Allied victory.

Code Name: Lise

The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII's Most Highly Decorated Spy

Code Name: Lise

The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII's Most Highly Decorated Spy

Written by: Larry Loftis
Recommended Age: Adults

After Odette Sansom decides to become an SOE agent in the midst of World War II, she parachutes into occupied France and meets her commanding officer, Captain Peter Churchill. The indomitable pair discover soul mates in one another, falling in love as they race to evade Hugo Bleicher, the German secret police sergeant who pursues them at every turn. When Bleicher finally captures them, they face prison in Paris, then torture in concentration camps in Germany, but their courage — and love — sustains them through seemingly unbeatable horror. Full of thrilling twists and turns and a heart-pounding romance, Sansom's true story is a tribute to the human capacity to overcome.

Madame Fourcade's Secret War

The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

Madame Fourcade's Secret War

The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

Written by: Lynne Olson
Recommended Age: Adults

In 1941, 31-year-old Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, a young, privileged mother of two, was also the head of a critical French spy network, Alliance. It seemed like a role she was born to play: she was notoriously strong-willed and rebellious, willing to defy her country's patriarchal rules before the war — and the Nazi occupiers during it. Fourcade would be the war's only female chef de résistance; she held together thousands of agents despite relentless pursuit by the Gestapo. Thanks to her ferocious conviction, Alliance became the longest-lasting resistance network in France, supplying key information, including an enormous map of the beaches where the Allies landed on D-Day. This tale of a courageous woman who refused to give in is suspenseful and thrilling.

Nancy Wake: SOE's Greatest Heroine

Nancy Wake: SOE's Greatest Heroine

Written by: Russell Braddon
Recommended Age: Adults

From the moment the German army invaded France in World War II, Nancy Wake was part of the resistance movement. By 1943, she was on the Gestapo’s most wanted list, nicknamed the White Mouse for how easily she evaded their traps. And when she was forced to flee France for safety in Britain, she immediately joined the British Special Operations Executive’s elite group of female agents, soon to be parachuted back into France to lead a 7,000 member branch of the Maquis fighting force. This thrilling true story of one of World War II’s most remarkable heroines will top any fictional spy story!

A Woman Of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

A Woman Of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

Written by: Sonia Purnell
Recommended Age: Adults

In 1942 France, a mysterious spy known as the "Limping Lady" was a linchpin for the French Resistance – the Gestapo called her "the most dangerous of all Allied spies." Her name, unknown to the Germans, was Virginia Hall. She was the daughter of a well-off Baltimore family turned Special Operations Executive agent, and her distinctive limp was from a prosthetic leg that most people believed would trap her behind a secretary's desk. Author Sonia Purnell explores the full story behind Hall's life, illuminating her determination and her wartime heroism. Fast-paced, thrilling, and meticulously researched, this biography of Hall is better than any fictional spy story. For another fascinating biography of Hall, check out The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America's Greatest Female Spy.

You May Also Like

Help keep A Mighty Girl growing in the years ahead!

If you discover books or other resources via this post that you would like to purchase, please use the "Buy at Amazon" and other links found on every A Mighty Girl product page. By doing so, at no added cost to you, you help to support the site and allow us to continue providing you with wonderful girl-empowering resources. We appreciate your support!