SYDNEY, Feb 23 (AFP) – Australian veterans Monday described as “better late than never” Canberra’s decision to finally bestow an award on Nancy Wake, the Australian French Resistance fighter who became one of the most decorated heroines of World War II.
Wake will receive Australia’s highest civilian honour – the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) – next month in London where she lives in failing health, the government announced late Sunday.
Returned Serviceman’s League national president Bill Crews told reporters successive governments had been “technically correct” in not giving Wake an award because she was not born in Australia and never fought as an Australian servicewoman.
But he said community opinion had viewed the government as “a bit mean” and described the move as “better late than never”.
Australia had been conspicuously absent among its wartime allies in recognising Wake’s contributions as a secret agent in France and Britain.
With the George Medal, Legion d’honneur, Croix de Guerre, French Resistance Medal and US Medal of Freedom, the 91-year-old was the Allied Forces’ most decorated servicewoman of the war.
Accepting the award will be a change of heart for the former freedom fighter, dubbed the “White Mouse” by the French for her uncanny ability to elude capture.
When she left Australia three years ago to live out the rest of her days among friends in Britain she said: “The last time there was a suggestion of that I told the government they could stick their medals where the monkey stuck his nuts.
“The thing is if they gave me a medal now, it wouldn’t be love so I don’t want anything from them”.
The award comes one month after the Australian government agreed to contribute AUD 12,000 (USD 9,300 US) a year to Wake’s living expenses, enabling her to move out of a nursing home.
Wake was born in New Zealand but raised in Australia from the age of one. She moved to France in her early 20s to work as a journalist.
While living in Paris she fell in love with Frenchman Henri Fiocca. “He was a lovely bloke, the love of my life,” she often said of the man she married in 1939.
When Germany invaded France, the couple joined the French resistance, helping Allied pilots and soldiers flee France.
Her husband was caught and executed by the Nazis and she became one of the Gestapo’s most-wanted fugitives.
She escaped to Britain where she was trained as an agent and parachuted back into France to help undermine the Germans, her exploits subsequently becoming the subject of the book and film “Charlotte Grey”.
Subject: France news