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Nancy Wake, Gestapo’s Most Wanted by Suzy Henderson

"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

Lest We Forget.

Book Linkmybook.to/MadameFiocca

Free April 14-17th 2021

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On Tour with Madame Fiocca

This week I’m on tour with my latest release, Madame Fiocca. For those who don’t know, it’s about Nancy Wake, the infamous SOE heroine, journalist and French Resistance courier. Here’s a piece I wrote for Viviana Mackade’s fabulous book blog today. To read the entire piece click the link below:

Finding Nancy Wake

by Suzy Henderson, author of Madame Fiocca.

I first read about Nancy Wake and her role in World War Two several years ago, while researching another story. I recall thinking how commendable, but I read on, discovering other heroines of SOE including the American, Virginia Hall, the first female operative in France. What is even more remarkable is that she had a prosthetic leg. While working with the Special Operations Executive in France, Virginia had to escape over the Pyrenees, quite literally at one-point crawling part of the way. It was an incredible achievement and so courageous.

One day I came across an article about Nancy Wake, and it mentioned her husband. That caught my interest, so I bought a biography of Wake written by Russel Braddon. Suddenly, Nancy was on my mind and I wanted to know more, such as where she grew up, and her life before France. Braddon’s book was wonderful, but it didn’t cover much of Nancy’s life in Australia. I then bought Nancy’s own biography, written at a later stage in her life. Once again, not much in there about Australia, so I decided to go digging on the internet, turning to genealogy sites as I looked for family ties. Well, after many hours of searching and triple checking the facts, I discovered her family tree, unearthing British, Maori and French roots.

I discovered through Nancy’s own words in her books and tv interviews, that her father had abandoned her and her family at an early age. And there was something else that stood out every time Nancy spoke of her war times. She vehemently denied ever being afraid, saying things such as she was far too busy to be scared. I found this interesting, because I’ve also heard of soldiers and airmen who have said exactly the same. And then I’ve heard dozens more state that any man who said he wasn’t afraid in war is a liar!

The fact is, Nancy was the consummate actress, quite forward, openly flirtatious with German soldiers in order to bluff her way through check points for instance. She could probably do just about anything and so painting on a brave face was a simple task. Like a chameleon, Nancy was changeable and adaptable to any situation or environment.

The French men she fought with and led 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.”

Food for thought indeed. My take was that Nancy would have been afraid. Fear is a natural response after all, but Nancy had a strong spirit and the strength to push on, doing what she needed to do despite the risks.

There’s a lot to consider when writing about a real person, and the fear factor was important to me because I knew it existed, and I didn’t wish to write a person who was completely without it.

Re-reads of the biographies gave me more insight – it’s funny what you miss when reading something the first or even the second time. Piece by piece Nancy was emerging before my eyes.

Having gone from learning about a New Zealander, raised in Sydney, who became a guerrilla fighter with the Maquis in France – a great leader of some 7000 men, I was suddenly facing a woman who bore her own emotional scars, who did admit to feeling worried at times during the war, and who was a true lady with the heart of a lion. She was a born leader, involved in dangerous courier work for Resistance groups from the very beginning in France, and well before she joined the Special Operations Executive. It was during this time that the Germans became aware of a woman operating in southern France, and they dubbed her “The White Mouse”, offering a bounty for her capture.

Her real story reads like something out of Hollywood, and I was hooked, and I knew I had to write about her, to enable people to see the real Nancy. She was a wonderful human being, kind, incredibly generous, the greatest friend to have, and incredibly patriotic and brave.

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. It’s a tragic story, but she eventually found happiness and perhaps some peace later when she met and fell in love with John Forward. They married and settled eventually in Australia.

Nancy never got over the loss of Henri. He was, as she often remarked, the greatest love of her life, and his selfless sacrifice was her one regret from the war years.

Henri was arrested in May 1943 and tortured by the Germans, but he refused to give up his wife’s location. On October 16th, 1943, Henri Fiocca was executed by firing squad. And to the end of her days, Nancy always declared that “the only good Nazi is a dead one”.

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake 30 August 1912 – 7 August 2011

Book Linkmybook.to/MadameFiocca

fiction, historical fiction, Novel, Uncategorized

New Year New Books Fete & Prize & Giveaway

N.N. Light’s Book Heaven New Year New Books Fete running throughout January.

Open internationally.

Runs January 1 – 31 2020.

Draw to be held on February 1, 2020.

Calling all readers! It’s a brand new year and I’m ringing in 2020 with N. N Light’s Book Heaven New Year New Books Fete. 39 books from multiple genres featured plus a chance to win one of the following:

Enter to win a $50 Amazon (US) or Barnes and Noble Gift Card

Enter to win a $25 Amazon (US) or Barnes and Noble Gift Card

Enter to win a $10 Amazon (US) or Barnes and Noble Gift Card

I’m thrilled to be a part of this event. My book, Madame Fiocca, will be featured on 2 January 2020. I even talk about my resolutions/goals for the new year. You won’t want to miss it.

Bookmark this bookish get-together and tell your friends:

https://www.nnlightsbookheaven.com/bookpromos/categories/new-year-new-books-fete

Direct link to giveaway:

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/92db775044

Good luck and happy reading!

fiction, historical fiction, Novel, Uncategorized

The Moments that Define Us

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.

Paris at night

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