Image for Window to Togatus (6): Nancy v. Warnie

On a new commercial television program – full of colour, celebrities and fake laughter – contestants are asked to respond to a controversial question (no doubt after consulting their PR person) with a yes or a no. This week the statement was:

“Do Australians worship our sports stars too much?”

Well yes, I believe we do. While I would have definitely been outvoted on the night, the question did prompt the thought, “who are the other heroes of Australia?” There are scientists discovering new cures; inventors creating gadgets; volunteers helping out in times of need; and lifesavers doing as their name suggests. And then, there is that lady who fought in a secret army against Hitler. Nancy Wake is definitely an Australian hero.

The photo of a young Nancy in uniform being splashed about newspapers this week, following her death at the grand age of 98, resembles somewhat of a gentle Hollywood glamour. Perhaps I missed that history lesson, but I wasn’t entirely aware of Nancy Wake and her remarkable story. So to Google I went and what a woman I found.

Nancy left the safe shores of Australia for France in 1932. She joined the French Resistance in 1940 with the specific aim to stop Hitler. She had witnessed cruelty by the Nazis toward Jews and wanted to help, which she did – and then some. Following her husband’s advice, Nancy fled to Britain in 1943, but would soon return as a spy. Being a woman, one trained in combat and treachery, Nancy went unnoticed by the Germans who quickly labelled her “The White Mouse”. She delivered supplies, including weapons to members of the Resistance in France and also sheltered Jews fleeing the Nazi regime. Thousands of lives were saved by her quick thinking and bravery. “Courageous” and “inspirational” are two words that have been used to describe Nancy. “Ballsy” could be another.

If there was ever a time to say the cringe worthy phrase, “you go girlfriend”, this would be it. The French government put those words ever so more eloquently when they awarded Nancy a host of decorations, including the country’s highest prize, the Legion d’Honneur. Australia also acknowledged Nancy’s huge efforts, but not until 2004 when she received the Order of Australia. Why this late acknowledgement of a job well done? Perhaps the government was busy giving medals to people who play sport.