United States Medal of Freedom : Ensign N G A Wake, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (Special Operations Executive)

Unit Special Operations Executive
Place Europe: France
Accession Number REL22576.008
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Medal
Physical description Bronze
Location Main Bld: World War 2 Gallery: Gallery 2: Against G
Maker Unknown
Date made c 1947
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

US Medal for Freedom with palm. Unnamed as issued.

History / Summary

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was born at Wellington, New Zealand on 30 August 1913 though the family moved to Sydney when she was a child. In 1932 Wake left Australia and moved to London then Paris, working as a journalist. Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War she married wealthy French industrialist Henri Fiocca.

After the fall of France, Wake acted as a courier for the fledgling resistance movement before putting Fiocca's considerable resources to work developing an escape network for Allied soldiers.

By 1943 the Germans were becoming suspicious of her activities, dubbing her 'the White Mouse', and it was obvious that she needed to leave France quickly. Using the underground network she had helped to develop, Wake escaped to England, arriving in June 1943. While in London she joined the Special Operations Executive as an operative to train and equip the French Resistance groups known as the Maquis.

After intensive training Wake and a British officer were parachuted into France in April of 1944. As 'chef du parachutage', she quickly set about training and arming the Maquis around Auvergne via parachute drops from England.

Following the Allied invasion at Normandy on 6 June 1944, as the Germans rushed forward to reinforce their lines, the Maquis set about tripping them up at every turn. Hundreds of pre-determined targets were destroyed - phone lines, bridges, railways, roads, factories, power stations.

During August two American weapons instructors complete with bazookas were parachuted into Wake's area. The weapons were put into almost immediate effect during a German attack the next day with Wake leading and advising the new arrivals. The bazookas quickly demoralised the Germans who withdrew. Like almost all who fought with her, the Americans soon held her in high regard. Later she would be awarded the American Medal of Freedom. The citation for the award reads:

'Ensign Nancy Wake, British National, FANY, for exceptionally meritorious achievement which aided the United States in the prosecution of war against the enemy in Continental Europe, from March 1944. After having been parachuted into the Allier Department of France for the purpose of co-ordinating Resistance activities she immediately assumed her duties as second-in-command to the organiser of the circuit. Despite numerous difficulties and personal danger she, through her remarkable courage, initiative and coolness succeeded in accomplishing her objective. Her daring conduct in the course of the enemy engagement safeguarded the lives of two American officers under her command. Her inspiring leadership, bravery, and exemplary devotion to duty contributed materially to the success of the war effort and merit the praise and recognition of the United States.'

Over the weeks that following the Allied invasion reprisals were severe as thousands of German troops, complete with air and artillery support were deployed to destroy the Maquis. During one of the encounters, the group's radio was destroyed and Wake immediately volunteered to organise a replacement. By the time she completed her task she had travelled over 400 kilometres through enemy territory.

In September 1944 Wake first learned that Fiocca had been killed. He had been arrested by the Gestapo in May 1943 and had endured five months of torture before being executed on 16 October.

For her services during wartime she also received recognition from the governments of France and Britain. The Australian government finally recognised her achievements 2004, appointing her a Companion of the Order of Australia.

Wake died in a London Hospital on 8 August 2011, aged 98.