One of World’s Most Decorated Resistance Fighters is now Commemorated at a Leading Five Star Hotel in London.

This courageous woman worked in and helped to organise sections of the French Resistance.

During much of that time knowing that this former nurse, journalist and SOE agent had a 5Million Franc price on her head.

She was known by the code name ‘The White Mouse’ by the Gestapo. Nancy Wake the New Zealand born then later Australian national became a British agent. And even killed with her bare hands.

During the war her connection to The Stafford London was initiated as it was used by the US and Canadian Army units. But it was also a place where the military and the spying world came together.

Nancy Wake in 1945
Nancy Wake in 1945

The American Bar at the hotel in the 1940’s was the go-to place for many from the different inter-services to meet.

It was the place where Nancy met a former Marseilles Resistance member Louis Burdet who was the hotel’s General manager.

When the war started, she was living in Marseilles. She firstly became a member of the escape network to assist downed allied airmen to evade capture and escape to neutral Spain.

She made her way to Britain via Spain herself after in 1943 when she became known to the Gestapo at this time. Unknown to her, husband Henry Fiocca was arrested and executed.

The Stafford London.
The Stafford London.

Once in Britain she became agent ‘Helene’ as she joined the SOE (Special Operations Executive).

She was parachuted back into France with two others and carried on the work of liaising with members of the Marquis in the Auvergne region and communicating back to SOE in London.

At one stage she took on a bicycle ride of 500 kilometres in order to get a message back to London that a battle with the Marquis and Germans had unfortunately been lost.

This effort to disrupt the Germans after D Day was one of a number such missions that Resistance units all over France took on.

The Stafford London.
The Stafford London.

Her ride went from Saint-Santin to Chateauroux where the nearest radio was located. She then returned all within 72 hours.

After the war she worked for a period in the intelligence section of the Air Ministry later remarried and moved to Australia returning to the UK in 2001.

It was then again that she reconnected with the Stafford Hotel where she resided. She celebrated her 90th birthday at the hotel in 2003. The hotel owners absorbed most of the costs of her stay at The Stafford London.

As she aged further, she then moved to the Royal Star and Garter Home for Disabled Ex-Service Men and Women, in Richmond, London where she died in 2011.

The Stafford London.
The Stafford London.

Her many medals which included the George Medal, Legion de Honneur, Croixde Guerre and the US Medal of Freedom were sold over time to help her financially.

Her regular routine when staying or visiting the hotel was to sit at her special stool in the American Bar and enjoy a gin and tonic whilst chatting to the bar manager Benoit Provost.

Today an excellent bronze of Nancy sits on the bar. And Benoit’s special creation of a ‘White Mouse’ cocktail to commemorate her in the place where she told numerous stories of her exploits.

Russell Braddon with Nancy Wake. Photo: Russell Braddon
Russell Braddon with Nancy Wake. Photo: Russell Braddon

Now today its one of the most popular drinks on the cocktail menu at the hotel.

It is made up with Saffron Gin, shaken with lemon juice, honey and topped up with Champagne and garnished with star anise.

Further reading:

The Stafford London

The Travel Trunk

A book written by fellow Australian Russell Braddon called ‘The Story of a Very Brave Woman’ was published in 1956. Braddon was a prisoner of the Japanese in Singapore and Burma and where he met cartoonist Ronald Searle who later drew the St Trinians Cartoons.