New Zealand-born WWII heroine dies

Last updated 15:47 08/08/2011
WHITE MOUSE: Nancy Wake was at one point was No 1 on the Gestapo's most wanted list.
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WHITE MOUSE: Nancy Wake was No 1 on the Gestapo's most wanted list.

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A relative of New Zealand-born World War II heroine Nancy Wake says her death has dashed any hope that she would be recognised with an honour from her homeland.

Professor Graeme Wake, a distant relative of Nancy who had joined efforts to see her honoured by New Zealand, said her death was a sad day for the country.

Wake, known as the ''The White Mouse'' because of her ability to elude capture, died at the weekend in London, where she had lived since 2001, aged 98.

She was born in Wellington, but left New Zealand as a toddler.

She was living in France when Nazi Germany invaded. She joined the French Resistance and was smuggled into England for specialist training.

In 1944, she was parachuted back into France, where she co-ordinated the efforts of thousands of fighters and fought alongside them.

Wake was at one point number one on the Gestapo's most-wanted list - with an offer of five million francs for anyone who dobbed her in or killed her.

She was the Allies' most decorated servicewoman, collecting bravery awards from France, England, Australia and the United States.

However, despite the honours she received she was never recognised by the New Zealand Government.

Professor Wake, who teaches at the Massey University Albany campus, met Ms Wake in England in 1990 and took up the cause to help her receive recognition from the New Zealand Government - a campaign that was active until her death.

Only last month he called for the Government to recognise Wake before it was too late.

He said yesterday he was very disappointed that her death brought an end to the efforts, and he believed it was a lost opportunity for New Zealand.

''When I met her she was always adamant she was a New Zealander, she kept her New Zealand passport right through to when I met her and I believe beyond,'' he said.

Professor Wake said successive New Zealand Government's had never said why they had declined to recognise Wake, but he understood it may be because she left New Zealand at a young age.

''She never lived much of her life in New Zealand and left as a small child, when she was taken by her parents to Australia and hardly came back.

''I believe she made one fleeting visit as a youngster before she went to Europe, to see her father.''

He said Wake had a ''toughness of spirit which you can only admire''.

''She was a forthright person, very direct on her views, clear on her views.  You knew exactly where you stood with her.''

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He said he understood that Wake wanted her ashes to be scattered in the south of France, in the area where she operated.

''Her first husband Henry, who was executed by the Gestapo, was from there and it was obviously a very happy marriage, but (was) destroyed by the Germans.''

RSA chief executive Stephen Clarke said Wake was a great New Zealander who exemplified the ANZAC spirit and whose memory should not be forgotten.

''We'll look at ways of keeping that inspiration going for future generations, whether it's through a scholarship or competition.

''It's such a tremendous story of courage and inspiration that it needs to live on.''

In 2006 the RSA awarded Wake its highest honour, the RSA Badge in Gold, at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

She was the first woman to receive the award.

Clarke said she ''appreciated the honour coming from her peers, the veterans back here in New Zealand''.

''After the award was presented we heard from airmen back here in New Zealand who had received assistance from and they were really pleased that she had that recognition in her lifetime.'' 

- Stuff

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