Wellington remembers war heroine Nancy Wake

17:00, Aug 08 2011
CITY'S TRIBUTE: Wellington  Mayor Celia Wade-Brown takes  flowers to the  Nancy Wake memorial at Oriental Bay.
CITY'S TRIBUTE: Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown takes flowers to the Nancy Wake memorial at Oriental Bay.

A Kiwi war veteran who was one of thousands rescued by French Resistance heroine Nancy Wake is disgusted she died without formal recognition from the New Zealand Government.

Pat Hickton, 90, of Palmerston North, was a tail gunner in a Wellington bomber shot down during a raid over France in 1941. He was taken prisoner but escaped and was helped back to England by Ms Wake and other resistance fighters.

Ms Wake, who was born in Wellington's Roseneath, died in London at the weekend, aged 98, after suffering a chest infection. During World War II she helped thousands of downed Allied pilots and Jewish families elude German and Vichy officials to reach the Pyrenees and neutral Spain. She became known as the White Mouse because of her ability to elude capture.

She received France's highest military honour, the Legion d'honneur, as well as three Croix de guerre and a French Resistance Medal, Britain's George Medal and the US Medal of Freedom, and was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2004.

But she had no official recognition from New Zealand. "When you look at the people who get honours in this country, a lot of them get paid for receiving their honours," Mr Hickton said. "Nancy never got paid for doing what she did. She deserved better from the country of her birth."

He described her as an inspirational figure who shot traitors if she had to and delighted in killing Germans. "That's how she gained her respect in the French Resistance. The men followed her."

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Ms Wake, who moved with her parents to Australia in 1914, was living in France when Germany invaded. She joined the Resistance and was smuggled to England for training. In 1944, she was parachuted back into France, where she co-ordinated thousands of fighters in the buildup to D-Day and fought alongside them.

She discovered after the war that her husband, Henri Fiocca, had been tortured and killed by the Nazis.

In 2006, the New Zealand Returned and Services Association awarded her its highest honour, the RSA Badge in Gold, at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. She was the first woman to receive the award. RSA chief executive Stephen Clarke said she "appreciated the honour coming from her peers, the veterans back here in New Zealand".

Tributes poured in to London yesterday, with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard describing Ms Wake as an inspiring figure.

New Zealand Veterans' Affairs Minister Judith Collins described her as an inspirational and courageous woman.

France's ambassador to New Zealand, Francis Etienne, said Ms Wake would be remembered as one of the exceptionally inspirational figures of the Resistance movement.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown laid flowers at the site of the Nancy Wake memorial at Oriental Bay yesterday.

Prime Minister John Key said he had sought advice on whether it was possible to give Ms Wake an honour but was told that it was not because her wartime deeds had already been recognised by Britain on behalf of the empire.

The Dominion Post