Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was one of the most decorated secret agents of World War II, and saved hundreds of Allied lives. Serving as a British agent, Nancy became a crucial figurehead for the French Resistance, and one of the Germans’ most wanted.
After France fell in 1940, Nancy became a courier for Captain Ian Garrow, a Scot who had helped create an escape route for officers and airmen from Vichy France across the mountains into Spain.By 1943, Nancy had a 5 million-franc price on her head from the Gestapo. She had broken Garrow out of a concentration camp, escaped to Spain in a coal truck, and trained in England to become an agent for the Special Operations Executive. Her proudest achievement during the war was yet to come.
While Nancy waited France in anticipation of the Normandy landings, her lines of communication with London were destroyed by a German aerial attack. In order to re-establish contact, crucial before D-Day, she rode a bicycle 250 from Auvergne to Châteauroux through German-held territory to find a wireless operator.
Nancy admitted afterwards: “When I got off that damned bike I felt as if I had a fire between my legs. I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t sit down, I couldn’t walk. When I’m asked what I’m most proud of doing during the war, I say: ‘The bike ride’.” For the rest of the war, Nancy was occupied with ambushing German convoys, destroying bridges and railway lines, and executing raids. She said of her time in service: “When we were fighting we were fighting,” she said “When we weren’t we were having a jolly good time. I never was scared.”
Nancy died aged 98 in the Star and Garter forces retirement home just outside Richmond Park in London.