Earlier this month, the most remarkable female secret agent of WWII passed away in a royal home for disabled veterans at the age of 98. Her ashes will be scattered, at her own request, at the former Gestapo headquarters in Montlucon, in central France, where she once led a successful attack.
Her war-time actions are believed to have saved thousands of allied lives. Her resistance network rescued hundreds of Allied airmen, some of whom she personal escorted to the coast. The maquis under her command killed at least 1400 Germans. One German casualty was a German sentry which Nancy Wake personally killed with her bare hands. The Gestapo called her Die WeiÃŸe Maus and she headed their most-wanted list with a reward of 5 million francs on her head. Nonetheless, she survived the war, and became one of the most decorated female combatants of WWII. Her life eventually was the basis for a successful novel and film.
A male comrade-in-arms in the French Resistance summed her up as: â€˜The most feminine woman I know, until the fighting starts. And then she is like five men.â€™ She lived up to both parts of that compliment.
So feminine was she that when escaping from pursuers on one notable occasion, she dressed in a smart frock, silk stockings, high-heeled shoes and a camel-hair coat, arguing that she didnâ€™t want to look like a hunted woman.
In that same outfit, she jumped from a moving train into a vineyard to avoid capture at a Nazi checkpoint.
And so aggressive was she that, after being parachuted into France as a Special Operations Executive agent, she disposed of a German guard with her bare hands and liked nothing better than bowling along in the front seat of a fast car through the countryside, a Sten gun on her lap and a cigar between her teeth, in search of Germans to kill.
Passionate and impulsive, with a tendency to draw attention to herself, she was not the ideal undercover agent. Her superiors didnâ€™t think she would last long behind enemy lines.
But Wake proved them wrong and died this week, aged 98, in a nursing home for retired veterans in London. Her death brought to an end a life of such daring, courage and glamour that she was the inspiration for the Sebastian Faulks novel Charlotte Gray, which was made into a film starring Cate Blanchett.