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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 8465


Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (12:35): As a war heroine, Nancy Wake, who passed away in London on 7 August 2011, aged 98 years, was a pioneering feminist who spoke loudly with words and backed them up with actions—bold, brave, remarkable actions. She once said:

I hate wars and violence, but if they come I don't see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.

It was a philosophy she most definitely lived by.

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Wellington-New Zealand-born Ms Wake was a newlywed living in France and working as a journalist. However, instead of thinking that she could most help by staying at home, she felt she could do most by joining the fight. She hid downed allied servicemen at her home and led them over the Pyrenees to shelter in Spain and, throughout the war, she helped save and shelter many more men and women. Exact figures are hard to establish, but she was reported to have helped save many hundreds of lives.

As the war progressed, Ms Wake helped organise thousands of French Resistance fighters by helping train 7,000 partisans in preparation for the Normandy invasion. She also distributed weapons and met allied arms drops.

As her involvement in the war deepened, Ms Wake was trained by the British to kill with her bare hands, parachute into enemy-held territory and work a machine gun—what a fighter; what a woman. By joining the fight, she made such a contribution to the allied effort that she topped the Gestapo's most wanted list. She had a five million franc price on her head.

Her life was in constant danger. The resistance network was betrayed in 1943. Ms Wake fled Marseille. Her husband, Henri Fiocca, remained behind where he was later captured, tortured and executed by the Gestapo.

Ms Wake always put herself in the midst of the action. She was dauntless. When a German counterattack against the Resistance movement disrupted lines of communication, she covered 200 kilometres by bike over hostile ground to receive crucial messages. To her, this was not a heroine's mission; this was a necessity and she took to the responsibility because a woman was deemed to have more chance.

After the war, she received numerous international honours, including the George Medal, the Croix de Guerre, the Medaille de la Resistance, the Chevalier de Legion d'Honneur and the US Medal of Freedom and became a Companion of the Order of Australia.

She chomped on cigars, drank with the best of them and lived in horrendous conditions; however, she travelled nowhere without her Chanel lipstick, face cream and a favourite red satin cushion.

She was once described by one of her colleagues as 'the most feminine woman I know until the fighting starts—then she is like five men.' Another, Vera Atkins, who also worked in the British Special Operations Executive said Wake was 'a real Australian bombshell, tremendous vitality, flashing eyes; everything she did, she did well.'

Training records report that Wake was a very good and fast shot and had excellent field craft. It was noted that she put the men to shame by her cheerful spirit and strength of character.

In 1949, Nancy returned to Australia and stood as a Liberal Party candidate in the Sydney seat of Barton. What a tremendous contribution she would have made to this place, but unfortunately it was not to be. Despite a strong swing in her favour, Nancy did not win the seat, and so she returned to Britain in 1958 when she was appointed in the Women's Royal Air Force as an officer in the British Air Ministry.

Nancy Wake was one of the bravest Australians who has ever lived. She was known by those in the Gestapo as the 'White Mouse' for the way she deftly avoided their traps. To Australians and New Zealanders she is known as a true heroine. She lived the Anzac spirit. Vale Nancy Grace Augusta Wake. Lest we forget.