Nancy Wake was a remarkable, feisty woman. As a young journalist she witnessed an act of Nazi atrocity so vicious, so vile, that she vowed then and there to do everything in her power to stop the advance of the violent superpower. She was a woman living in France, from backwater Sydney, who ascended from lowly courier positions to lead the French Resistance. Nothing was too big a challenge. She cycled 400km across a mountain range, killed a Nazi soldier with her bare hands and rescued thousands of soldiers and civilians from certain death with her escape routes. They called her ‘The White Mouse’, after her ability to constantly evade capture. She eventually fled France to escape capture but even her absence was not enough to dull her enmity and she worked as hard as ever to bring the Nazis down. She remains Australia’s most decorated war hero. She passed away aged 98. The following is an extract from Peter FitzSimons’ biography of this most wonderful woman:
A Cry in the Night…
The good stars met in your horoscope,
Made you of spirit and fire and dew.
– Robert Browning
Quoted on the title page of Nancy Wake′s favourite book,
Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery.
In a dingy little room at the back of a modest weatherboard home in the suburb of Roseneath, the air was thick with exhaustion, the sheets and floor nearby lightly spattered with blood and wetness. On the bed, a woman was just starting to recover from the searing waves of pain that had been washing over her during the supreme effort of giving birth. Even though this was her sixth child-yet her first for eight years-it never seemed to get any easier, only ever made her progressively more tired. In the gusty heights of windy Wellington, on the thirtieth day of August 1912, the timeless scene of human birth had just taken place and Ella Wake lay back exhausted, totally spent. A woman hovered close-a tapuhi, the Maori word for midwife-and she was positively beaming with happiness. Cradling the baby′s head in the crook of her bountiful arms, she pointed to the thin veil of skin which covered the top part of the infant′s head, known in English as ′a caul′.
′This,′ she said softly tracing a gentle finger across the fold of extra membrane, ′is what we call a kahu and it means your baby will always be lucky. Wherever she goes, whatever she does, the gods will look after her.′
The mother groaned and lay back in the bed.
If so, so be it. At that particular time Ella was simply too tired to care and had room only for relief that her exhausting effort was over-though she would at least tell her daughter the story of the Maori midwife′s predictions many times for years afterwards.