French trees bear such fruit –
Sweet to see, will judo-chop
You in goddamned neck.
This post is written in the honour of my Piper and Jason’s newest addition to their family, who shares the same birthday as today’s subject. May she prove as badass.
As we all should know by now, World War II produced more Hollywood Blockbuster-worthy spies than any other war in history. Nancy was but one of those worthy of a summer release with a sick advertising campaign.
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was born on August 30, 1912 in Wellington, New Zealand, moving to Australia with her parents and five elder siblings when she was but a toddler. Apparently, the situation sucked, so she ran away to become a journalist at age sixteen and ran away to New York to become a journalist not long thereafter. The Hearst syndicate sent her to Europe in the Thirties and while she enjoyed herself in France, she also saw some dreadful things. Like Nazis randomly beating up Jews in Vienna. As she was a sensible person, this stuck in Wake’s craw.
So when Germany invaded, she promptly signed up as an ambulance driver. And when France fell, she signed up as a courier for the Resistance, her efforts earning her a five million francs price on her head, courtesy of the Gestapo, and the title of the ‘White Mouse’, because she was so damned impossible to catch. But it all got too hot for her to stay, and so she fled, leaving her husband behind. Said husband, Henri Fiocca, was captured by the Gestapo and endured much torture before they executed him. He refused to betray her. Wake didn’t discover his fate until years afterwards.
The haiku refers to two separate incidents after she got some training from Britain’s SOE and was returned to France. The first was upon her immediate return to France, when she was tangled up in a tree in Auvergne. The leader of the local maquis group remarked, “I hope that all trees in France bear such beautiful fruit this year.” Wake’s response: “Don’t give me that French shit.” The second was when she dispatched an SS sentry with a judo-chop. She was surprised at how easy it was.
All the while leading her 7000 maquisards in giving the Germans a very bad day.
But every good spy story can be improved with one simple addition. From Nancy Wake’s memoirs, The White Mouse: “One day I crossed over to the rue de Rivoli, intending to window-gaze. Suddenly I had one of those queer sensations one can get at times. I looked, and there he was. Our eyes met and I hesitated for a second and walked quickly away. But something pulled me back and I stood staring at him for a few minutes. It was love at for sight for us both. I entered the shop and came out the proud owner of a wire-haired terrier barely three weeks old.”
This pup, Picon, adopted before the war, had to be left behind when Wake escaped to England. But happily, Picon (unlike Wake’s husband) had survived the intervening years and was reunited with his one true love.
After the war, she was awarded a metric ton of medals, remarried, almost succeeded at politics, published her memoirs, and tutted at a miniseries ostensibly based on her. She died on August 7, 2011 in London, after spending many a morning drinking a well-made gin and tonic at the bar.
My friends’ young spawn could do worse than to follow Nancy Wake’s example.
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