Courageous and a fighter for freedom, Nancy Wake was one of the most extraordinary people of the 20th Century. She was a key figure in the French resistance movement and risked her life to undermine the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. Yet, it has only been in the last 20 years or so, that Nancy Wake's incredible contributions to overthrowing Nazism have been properly recognised by Australians. .
Born in 1912 in New Zealand and later moving with her family to Sydney as a toddler, Nancy Wake's early life was happy as the youngest of five siblings. However, her life dramatically changed at the age of 10, when her journalist father failed to return home from work one day, never to return. This devastated Nancy who, as a high spirited and adventurous child, constantly clashed with her deeply religious mother. Feeling constrained by the disciplinarian nature of her home and a dream to travel, Nancy later ran away. At aged 16, she secured work as a nurse in Mudgee. With her savings and some inherited money she left Australia in 1932 and travelled to England via North America. In London she trained as a journalist and moved to Paris to work. Whilst in Paris, Nancy became aware of the flood of refugees, mainly Jewish, fleeing persecution by the Nazi's who had risen to power in Germany and had advanced into Austria. .
To better understand what was occurring she travelled to Vienna to witness Nazism first hand. There she was confronted with terrifying storm troopers, the paramilitary organisation loyal to Adolf Hitler. She described them as "a well organised, superbly resourced troop of thugs, who were essentially a law unto themselves"(61). But it was the images of Jews being tied to massive wheels that were rolled along the road, and being whipped by the Storm Troopers, that had the greatest impact on Nancy. She recounted, ' Right there and then, I made up my mind that if ever I got the chance, I would do everything in my power to hurt them, to damage the Nazis and everything they stood for.