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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 8496

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (17:49): During the winter recess Australia lost one of its greatest war heroes, Nancy Wake. Nancy died at the grand old age of 98 years, the world being a better place for her having been here. Many thousands of people lived due to her acts of courage, tenacity and sacrifice during the Second World War. Horrified by the acts of cruelty and injustice that she witnessed while a journalist in Europe, Nancy joined the French Resistance after Germany invaded France in 1940. A true inspiration, Nancy Wake embodied the Allied spirit, dedicated to freedom and democracy.

Nancy is of course one of the most decorated women of the Second World War. She received many awards, including: the George Medal; the 1939-45 Star; the France and Germany Star; the Defence Medal; the British War Medal 1939-45; the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur; the Croix de Guerre, with two Palms and a Star; the Medal of Freedom, with Bronze Palm; and the Medaille de la Resistance for her courageous endeavours. Australia, of course, finally recognised her achievements when they awarded her the Companion of the Order of Australia in 2004.

Nancy Wake was born in 1912 in Wellington, New Zealand, but moved to Sydney at the age of two, and we claim her as our own. The youngest of six children, at the age of 16 years Nancy left home to pursue a career as a nurse, before leaving Sydney shortly thereafter for Europe, where she became a journalist for the Hearst newspaper group. After witnessing some of the abhorrent acts carried out by the Nazis, Nancy Wake felt duty bound to join the war effort. As Nancy Wake herself recounted:

The stormtroopers had tied the Jewish people up to massive wheels. They were rolling the wheels along, and the stormtroopers were whipping the Jews. I stood there and thought, 'I don't know what I'll do about it, but if I can do anything one day, I'll do it.

She got that opportunity after Germany invaded France in 1940, shortly after she had married Henri Fiocca, a wealthy French industrialist.

Wake started her resistance activities by becoming a courier for the French Resistance. She then joined the escape network managed by Captain Ian Garrow. So successful was she at defeating and evading the Germans that the Gestapo dubbed her the 'White Mouse' for her ability to elude capture. By 1943, she had become one of the Gestapo's most wanted persons in France.

After Nancy's network was compromised she made her way to Britain where she received special training before parachuting back into France to build the French guerrilla forces, which she did, to over 7,000 strong. Wake remained and fought with the Marquis group until the end of the war. In Peter FitzSimon's seminal biography of Nancy Wake it was reported that, even though they were outnumbered three to one, under Nancy's leadership the Nazis suffered causalities in the order of 14 to one. Nancy's friend Henri Tardivat said of her, and I think this best sums her up:

She is the most feminine woman I know until the fighting starts. Then she is like five men.

After the war, Wake continued working for British intelligence in Europe until 1957. She then moved back to Australia where she married former British fighter pilot John Forward. Nancy stood for politics three times, each time for the Liberal Party. Sadly for the Liberal Party and the parliament, she was not successful. Her two attempts in the federal seat of Barton against Dr Evatt in 1949 and 1951 came very close, with only 250 votes in it on her second attempt. In 1966 she stood for the seat of Kingsford-Smith and, sadly, again was defeated.

She moved back to Britain in 2001, four years after the death of her second husband, and remained there for the rest of her life. Wake never regretted any of her involvement in the war or what she had to do in that war. She saw it as a just cause. She said:

In my opinion, the only good German was a dead German, and the deader, the better. I killed a lot of Germans, and I am only sorry I didn't kill more.

You can understand her sentiments when you realise what she witnessed and what she went through. In fact, she is very famous for having killed a Nazi sentry with her bare hands at the Gestapo headquarters in Montucon during a raid on a munitions factory. She also undertook a very dangerous solo mission to get new codes after her old codes were destroyed that required her to cycle on a bike, by herself, over 800 kilometres through many German checkpoints.

I think that Peter Wertheim, head of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, put it best when he said of Nancy:

She became resolved to fight Nazism after witnessing the shocking mistreatment of Jewish civilians by Nazi troops in Vienna.

In today's superficial world, obsessed with appearances and material concerns, Nancy Wake's example reminds us of the things that really matter in life. She demonstrated that one person standing up against monstrous evil can make a difference.

She was an amazing woman. Thank you, Nancy Wake, for making that difference for your country and for the world.