This year’s celebration marks 76 years since the end of the war in Europe, a war that had prevailed for almost six years and taken the lives of millions.
On the 7th May 1945, many people heard whisperings that the Germans had surrendered and the war in Europe was finally over. On that same day, General Eisenhower accepted the unconditional surrender of all German forces at his HQ in Reims, France.
Later that day, the BBC interrupted its scheduled programme with a news flash announcing the news that Victory in Europe Day was to be a national holiday. Newspapers ran the story and the news spread like wildfire.
On the 8th May 1945, Winston Churchill broadcast to the nation stating that at 02:41 am the previous day, General Jodl had signed an unconditional surrender of the German Forces which would be effective as of 11:01 pm that day, May 8th. He added cautiously, ‘We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.’ Across the waves the war still raged against the Japanese in the Pacific and would continue until August.
Bells that had stood silent now peeled out all around the country and boats honked their horns while fighter aircraft performed victory rolls overhead.
On the other side of the Atlantic, President Harry Truman gallantly dedicated the victory to his predecessor, President Roosevelt, who had died a few weeks earlier on the 12th April.
People immediately rejoiced and celebrations began which were to last for two whole days all across the country, across the Channel and throughout Europe, Canada and America. In Britain, people celebrated with their neighbours in the streets, hung bunting and waved flags. Years of rationing, of making do and mend, of the mandatory and meagre five inches of bathwater, all faded into the background as people seized this moment; their moment, their freedom now secured.
In London, large crowds massed in Trafalgar Square and in the Mall as people made their way to Buckingham Palace where thousands staggered shoulder to shoulder and chanted, “We want the King!” At 3pm, Churchill made a radio broadcast which could be heard over the loudspeakers, and a hush descended over the large crowd of people as they listened to the Prime Minister.
Over the course of two days, the 8th & 9th May, people celebrated and embraced loved ones and strangers in the street, carried away on a euphoric tide. Who can forget this picture, one of many which captured the mood so evocatively on that day, May 8th?
War songs played out, including many of Dame Vera Lynn’s as the crowds sang along. In the evening, fireworks streaked through the sky, replacing searchlights and bombers. In France, similar mass celebrations played out.
Sadly, it wasn’t all rejoicing. For scores of people who had lost loved ones it was a bitter-sweet time. Today, we remember all those who lived through such incredible, dark times and survived, and all those who did not. Lest we forget.
"I hate wars and violence but if they come then I don't see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas." Nancy Augusta Wake.
My novel, Madame Fiocca: A WWII Novel, is based on the life of Nancy Wake, the famous SOE heroine, journalist and French Resistance courier.
I first read about Nancy Wake and her role in World War Two several years ago, while researching another story. I remember thinking how incredible she was, leading thousands of maquisards into battle against the Germans in 1944. Her exploits grabbed my attention, and I wondered many things. Who was this woman who helped thousands of Allied servicemen (many airmen) and refugees flee the Germans via an escape network? How did she do it? She escorted them to the foot of the Pyrenees where Spanish guides waited to take them up and over the mountains into Spain. She reportedly killed a German with her bare hands and has spoken of this in many an interview, crediting her training with SOE in giving her such a skill. Then, once back in France as an SOE agent, she won over the difficult temperaments of certain Maquis leaders, and their men, and earned their respect, going on to lead around seven thousand of them into battle against the Germans.
And in-between these battles, Nancy was a lady who wore a silk nightdress to bed and had her own parcels of personal items flown in along with the arms and equipment for the Maquis. SOE sent her precious Lizzie Arden face cream and other things.
I found it intriguing how Nancy always denied ever being afraid during the war. She used to say, “I was far too busy to be scared.” How can that possibly be? Surely everyone was frightened, after all, one never knew who to trust. Even a good friend or family member might give you away to save themselves. I had so many questions and I did not find the answers to all of them, sadly, but I did discover an extraordinary lady who really was very ordinary, but very strong in so many wonderful ways. In writing a novel based on her life, I feel very honoured to have had the chance to do so, knowing that this story has travelled all around the globe and been received very well. It is my own way of shining a light upon one of the most fascinating, amazing women of the 20th century who deserves to be remembered for all that she did.
Nancy Augusta Wake was born in Wellington, New Zealand on 30th August 1912 but her family moved to Sydney, Australia when she was two years old. Her childhood was not the happiest, and her father left them when she was five. Nancy was devastated, having been the apple of his eye until the day he left. Life at home became unbearable for her and when she was sixteen she ran away. That was the beginning of her new life, her story. She found work, lodgings, and made a plan. She needed to save money to buy a ticket out of Oz. Nancy was determined to see the world, a dream she’d had for so long.
Eventually, she achieved that dream with the aid of her aunt, Hinemoa, who sent her a cheque for two hundred pounds. Soon, she set sail on the RMS Aorangi II in February 1933, aged twenty. She sailed around the world, loved New York, Canada and Europe, but finished in England where she had plans. Within a year she’d trained to be a journalist and had a job offer in Paris with the Chicago Tribune. France was a breath of fresh air, and Nancy embraced it as her own, devouring the culture and the language. And the French loved her. She was a jolly Australian woman, pleasant, gregarious, and one to join in. They often referred to her as ‘the girl who always laughed’.
Nancy loved reporting, and her work took her into the heart of Germany when one of her earliest assignments was to interview Hitler. While there she attended the mass rallies and witnessed the rise of the Nazi Party and saw first hand their brutality on the streets of Vienna. It was there while she watched a member of the SA (Brown Shirt) whip a Jewish man that she felt so useless because she couldn’t stop it. She vowed then that if ever she had an opportunity to do something about the Nazis, she would.
As war brewed, Nancy met and fell in love with Henri Fiocca, a wealthy industrialist. They married on the eve of war. When Henri was drafted to the front, Nancy decided to relinquish her wealthy life in Marseille and volunteered for the Red Cross, driving an ambulance. When the Germans took Paris, she drove home, weeping part of the way, and waited for Henri’s return. Fortunately he returned home within a month or two and life resumed some semblance of normal.
The German presence was not felt much in the south of France until later. Even so, when Nancy discovered an escape network had sprung up with its HQ in Marseille, she rose, eager to do whatever she could to help. That was the beginning of her clandestine work. Henri would have preferred her not to have become embroiled in that, but he assisted her and the network mainly with financial donations as money was key.
Nancy was undoubtedly busy as a courier for the escape network in the early years of WW2, and having such a sense of purpose possibly helped her brush aside any natural fear. She had a strong spirit and the strength to push on, fighting what she perceived to be a worthy cause, despite the risks. It was around late 1942 when the Germans became aware of a woman operating in southern France, and they dubbed her “The White Mouse”, offering a bounty for her capture. However, she never knew about this or the bounty, not until much later.
Nancy was the consummate actress, quite forward, openly flirtatious with German soldiers in order to bluff her way through checkpoints. Painting on a brave face was a simple task and like a chameleon, she was changeable and adaptable to any situation or environment.
A friend tipped her off one day in January 1943 when the Gestapo were asking questions in her neighbourhood. Her husband, Henri, decided there was no choice but for Nancy to leave. It was the last thing she wanted to do, especially as Henri said he had to stay behind to secure his business but he promised he would follow on and meet her in London. And her escape? It was not a straightforward journey. She had to wait months, hiding at a safe house while arrangements were made and conditions were right for a journey that would lead her up and over the perilous Pyrenees and down into neutral Spain. During her wait, she made firm friends she would always remember and revisit after the war, people to whom she owed much.
Later, in London, she joined SOE and would parachute into France in April 1944, with plans to arm, equip and train thousands of Maquisards, and to cause disruption to the Germans ahead of D-Day. She was then code name Helene.
The French men she fought with loved her. They thought she was amazing, and formidable. Nancy made many firm friends for life, and one of them, Henri Tardivat, once stated: “She is the most feminine woman I know, but when the fighting starts she is like five men.”
Nancy Augusta Wake began life with very little, and went on to marry a wealthy man, Henri Fiocca, living a millionaire’s life, only to lose it all through war. At the end of it all she had to start again. Her story is a tragic story, like so many from those dark, dangerous years, but she eventually found happiness and perhaps peace later when she met and fell in love with John Forward, a fighter pilot at the end of the war. They married and settled eventually in Australia.
She visited France many times after the war, met up with old friends, reminisced over their exploits. Later, after John died, Nancy relocated to England having sold her many medals at an auction for quite a sum. She set up home at the Stafford Hotel, just off Green Park in the heart of Mayfair, London. At 11am each day, Nancy would arrive at the American Bar and order her usual – G&T. She lived there for two years, long enough for the hotel to have a bar stool specially made with her name engraved. If you go there today you’ll be able to order cocktails such as ‘The White Mouse’ and ‘The Spitfire’. Her stool is still there if you care to see.
Nancy moved to the Royal Star and Garter Home on June 9th 2003 and was there for just over eight years. Even towards the end of her days she was not forgotten. She received letters and pictures from people around the world, many from children whose pictures gave her great delight.
On August 7th, 2011, the world lost another of the greatest generation when Nancy Wake passed away. Her coffin, draped with the Union Jack, bore three small white mice, a fitting tribute to a war heroine. Her ashes would be scattered later as she requested, in the Montlucon area in her beloved France, where she spent exciting and enjoyable times that she once described as the best years of her life.
This is her quote from her own autobiography:
“I already knew the horrors a totalitarian state could bring and long before the Second World was declared, I understood that the free world can only remain free by defending itself against any form of aggression.
I knew too that freedom could not be permanent. It has to be defended at all cost, even if by doing so part of our own freedom has to be sacrificed.
Freedom will always be in danger because, alas, victory is not permanent.”
Nancy’s real story reads like something out of Hollywood. She was a wonderful human being, kind, incredibly generous, the greatest friend to have, and incredibly patriotic and brave. She was undeniably one of the great heroines of that era, although if she were still with us I know she’d dismiss that in a heartbeat. My greatest regret is not having had the chance to meet her and yet I feel as if I know her as well as any good friend.
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake 30 August 1912 – 7 August 2011
I have loved reading about history for as long as I can remember. On more than one occasion, I was asked what class I was reading a book for and I had to admit that it was something I had selected to read for enjoyment. Yet, I was not familiar with the story of the “radium girls” until I listened to Kate Moore’s excellent book.
It was one of those snippets of history that seems unbelievable. When you think things are changing for the better, something happens and everything gets worse. Then you realize that events just like it continue to occur to this very day.
Called radium girls because of the luminescent paint they used to make watch and instrument dials glow in the dark, the young working-class women who were exposed to radium on a daily bases began sickening and dying in the years immediately following World War I. The companies they worked for denied liability, rejected the idea that radium was the cause of the women’s problems, and made any excuse at their disposal to avoid a decrease in profits.
The women had little help from the outside. Doctors, who had been using radium as a sort of miracle cure, were reluctant to admit that it might be dangerous. Most lawyers had no interest in taking on the case of women with little ability to pay fees and insufficient support to win their case. Worker’s compensation laws varied by state and often didn’t include the women’s situation. They were left at the mercy of the corporations that had caused their health to fail and then often fired them when they were unable to work.
When women began to die of radium poisoning, the symptoms were attributed to all manner of diseases. Diphtheria, tuberculosis, and even syphilis were documented causes of death for some of the poor girls. Some of the results of radium poisoning, such as sarcoma and infections, were listed as cause of death without an understanding of the underlying cause. Some doctors were in the pocket of the radium industry. Others simply didn’t know any better.
In Luminous, I have focused on the story of Catherine Donohue, an employee of Radium Dial in Ottawa, Illinois. Catherine was a typical small town girl, who counted herself lucky to obtain a good-paying position at the dial studio, until she developed a limp that never healed. Then she watched one of her friends collapse at work and another die of an infection that spread like wildfire. Catherine stood up for the Ottawa dial painters, even as her own health failed. Luminous is her story, and I hope that it is one that inspires curiosity about the past as well as a hunger for justice in the present.
Samantha Wilcoxson is a history enthusiast and avid traveler. Her published works include the Plantagenet Embers series with novels and novellas that explore the Wars of the Roses and early Tudor era. Luminous is her first foray into 20th century American history, but she suspects that it will not be her last. Samantha enjoys exploring the personal side of historic events and creating emotive, inspiring stories.
People often ask me when I began to write and why. Well, the answer is, it crept up on me. My first desire to write cropped up during my English lit degree with the Open University. For those of you familiar with the OU, one chooses which module they wish to study from a selection of courses relevant to the degree. I was in my third year, and at a crossroads. None of the options appealed to me, so I chose creative writing. Well, I thought I love to read, so why not? And that was that. With my love of history and a particular interest in WW2, I was hooked.
For me, it was a defining moment and I have not stopped writing since my degree years. It is fascinating how even the smallest of events define us, often altering our life’s path, encompassing great change. Perhaps we are drawn to the historical past because many events, situations remain current, and so people can identify with the past, and feel a certain connection.
My interests in military history range far and wide, but having come across an old biography written in the 1950s, about Nancy Wake, I was mesmerised. Later, I bought the memoir she wrote herself, published in the 1980s. While it was a captivating read, it mainly detailed her life in France on the eve of war and during. I learned about her time as a journalist in the 1930s, her first encounter with her future husband, Henri Fiocca, a wealthy industrialist, her courageous work as a courier with the Resistance, and finally, her life as an SOE agent.
All accounts talk of her war work, and I often read about this fierce Guerrilla fighter, a leader of seven thousand maquisards, who could drink any man under the table and still be sober enough to recall every detail. But instinctively I knew there was more to this fearless lady. Yes, she was strong-willed, she was angry, so ferociously angry with the Germans, and for a good reason. Mad enough to have the will to do something about their cruel ways.
Nancy was a lady who enjoyed the finer things in life, beautiful clothes, and dining. She was as far removed from the fighter she became when she first stepped onto French soil in 1933. Once I’d read all about her, a picture formed in my mind, but it was one mined with gaping holes, where secrets lay, buried, forgotten, and I had to uncover them to get to the heart of this amazing woman.
Nancy Wake was a frivolous, decent, young woman when she decided to study journalism in the early 1930s. She’d left her home in Sydney, unhappy with family life, embarked on a cruise, docked in England at the finale, and had to make a living. So, having completed a six-month course, armed with the basics in reporting and typing, she was fortunate enough to be offered a post in Paris, working with the Hearst News Group. In the beginning, life was idyllic.
She had suitors, dined out, and enjoyed the jet-setting lifestyle of a reporter, travelling the breadth of France, venturing across borders into Europe. It was her travels where she began to hear and see for herself, the ugliness metered out by the Nazi Party. Like so many at that time, she was intrigued by Adolf Hitler, but when she finally witnessed the brutal treatment of Jewish people by the SA in Vienna, she’d seen enough. It was a turning point in her young, gentile life. A defining moment. Hatred of the Nazis began to burn in her soul, one that would burn until her dying breath. What she witnessed in Vienna defined her in a heartbeat, and she would seize her chance when it sailed along, making a decision that would change her life forever.
The Nancy I went searching for, was a young girl in Sydney, having moved there with her family at the age of two. Originally born in New Zealand, her mother was descended from the French Huguenots and Maoris, her father from the British. Nancy had a tough upbringing, and her parents divorced when she was six years old. Sadly, her father sold the family home, effectively leaving his wife and children homeless. A new home elsewhere beckoned. Nancy was the youngest of all of her siblings, and so childhood was lonely at home. But when she went to school, she found friends and was a bit of a tomboy by all accounts.
It was this innocent child that drew me in because I began to picture a girl who had been shaped by hard family life, disappointment, rejection, an apparent lack of parental affection, and scarred by the absence of her father. As she once said, ‘I adored my dad, but he was a bastard.’ Nancy never saw her father again.
As people, we are so complex, and Nancy was no different. It seemed essential that I discovered every detail possible, to truly know the subject of my novel. Not all detail needed to be included in the book, it’s more about finding the person. After much digging and trawling genealogy sites, I’d gathered as much information as I was likely to find. Finally, I’d found Nancy. And she was quite different to the figure in those biographies.
Once we find what we are looking for, we must make sense of it, and things aren’t always as they seem. Nancy was often quoted as saying that she was never afraid. She was too busy to be scared, or her hatred of the Nazis flowed so deep that eclipsed all else. Well, you see, I believe Nancy was afraid, and, quite rightly so. I think what she genuinely realised was that fear would not be a barrier. She really was far too busy to dwell on it, and, like most people, simply got on with things. As a writer, we have an option to exercise some creative licence when writing about real people, while taking care to be as factually correct as reasonably possible.
As any writer of historical fiction knows, the research phase of writing can be exhausting, producing mountains of notes, many of which are never utilised – at least not in the written sense. But much of what is uncovered is used in other ways because the writer is now informed, and such insight informs their writing, characterisation, voice etc. It is the light bulb moment – a defining event. And it’s exciting, and satisfying when that finally happens.
Madame Fiocca is available to buy now from Amazon as an e-book. It is also available to read for FREE via KindleUnlimited – mybook.to/MadameFiocca
Today I’m thrilled to announce The Du Lac Princess – a fantastic new release by award-winning author, Mary Anne Yarde, available to buy now. For fans of her series, The Du Lac Chronicles, this latest release is certain to be a hit with new and existing fans alike.
War is coming…
The ink has dried on Amandine’s death warrant. Her crime? She is a du Lac.
All that stands in the way of a grisly death on a pyre is the King of Brittany. However, King Philippe is a fickle friend, and if her death is profitable to him, then she has no doubt that he would light the pyre himself.
Alan, the only man Amandine trusts, has a secret and must make an impossible choice, which could have far-reaching consequences — not only for Amandine, but for the whole of Briton.
“This isn’t a laughing matter,” there was censure in the monk’s words.
“If I don’t laugh then I am going to cry. I have been made to feel like a sinner even though I haven’t sinned, not really. I am a woman without hope and without any friends or family. I have lost everyone I ever loved, and now you tell me that life is going to be difficult. How much more difficult can it get?”
“The Pope has condemned you with Bell, Book and Candle,” Brother Daniel stated. “But that is not all. The Abbot made sure that the Pope was all too aware of your crimes. I am sorry, Amandine, but the Pope will never welcome you back into the Church.”
Amandine gasped, her laughter faded and any colour that was left on her face vanished. “What?” her voice was quiet, barely audible. “But I thought…all the penance. I thought… Tell me it isn’t true.”
“You are damned,” Brother Daniel confirmed. “No one will want you, neither man nor Church. You are completely at the mercy of Philippe. But rest assured, I believe he has every intention of protecting you. I will not lie to you, my dear, you will be shunned, even with the King’s support. The chances of you marrying again are very slim.”
“I wasn’t looking for a new husband,” Amandine said as she tried to make sense of Brother Daniel’s words.
“It also means that you will never be able to leave the protection of the castle. The protection of this room.”
Amandine scoffed with realisation. “I am to be Philippe’s prisoner? Why don’t you just say what you mean?”
“You are not his prisoner, think of it as being his special guest. This is for your own protection. Many would see you hang or worse. I have spoken to the King. Alan will be in charge of your safety from now on. Philippe thought you would find no fault in that, as you and Alan appear to be on good terms. Amandine, you must understand there are many who saw what you did the day Merton died. They saw how you were dressed in his clothes. They saw how you threw yourself at him. How you got down on your knees and begged the King for mercy on Merton’s behalf. They saw how Merton reacted when you were threatened. And those who didn’t will have listened when the Abbot condemned you. You are a fallen woman, a threat to their good Christian souls. Our main concern now is keeping you alive. You must never leave this room. Ever.”
“But I thought—”
“That you were doing penance? So you have said. Did you really think that the Abbot was going to pardon you of all your sins? Oh, Amandine, you are not stupid. He was never going to give you absolution.”
Amandine shook her head, and she began to wring her hands together in despair.
“You must be strong,” Brother Daniel reached across and stilled her hands with his. “And brave. Just like our Lord Jesus was in those darkest of days. Remember, he too was condemned for a crime he did not commit.” He smiled at her and squeezed her hands. “I must leave you now. I shall make sure some food is brought up, but it will be tested before you eat it, so do not fear about being poisoned.”
“Poisoned?” Amandine gasped, she had not even thought of that.
“You need to rest and regain your strength.” Brother Daniel rose to his feet and smiled down at her. “I will be back tomorrow to listen to your confession.”
“If I am damned, then what need do I have to confess?” Amandine asked, staring defiantly back at the monk. “Besides,” she looked away, “I consort with demons. I am evil. I am a sinner. My soul will burn in Hell. I will be damned forever—”
“Ask for mercy, and you will receive it,” Brother Daniel stated, interrupting her.
“I have,” Amandine challenged back, “and look where that has got me.”
Mary Anne Yarde is the Award-Winning author of the International Best Selling Series — The Du Lac Chronicles. Set a generation after the fall of King Arthur, The Du Lac Chronicles takes you on a journey through Dark Age Briton and Brittany, where you will meet new friends and terrifying foes. Based on legends and historical fact, The Du Lac Chronicles is a series not to be missed.
Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury–the fabled Isle of Avalon–was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.
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