Skip to comments.Resistance heroine's last stand
Posted on 02/10/2003 5:37:40 PM PST by MadIvan
For 57 years a genteel hotel has welcomed a celebrated guest. Her picture graces its walls and a leather-backed bar stool is reserved for her at 11am, when she sips the first gin and tonic of the day.
Now 90, Nancy Wake, who as a beautiful and daring resistance fighter was regarded as one of the bravest women of the Second World War, has told the staff that she is staying "until I die".
There is a problem, however. She is penniless and even a small contribution from the Prince of Wales proffered after he read her biography barely dents the annual bill of tens of thousands of pounds.
For the hotel management it is something of a dilemma. But there is no suggestion that Miss Wake will be denied her wish to spend her last days within the oak-panelled interior of the Stafford Hotel, Piccadilly.
Even if they wanted to, few would dare to tell her to leave. Half a century on from the exploits that inspired the book and film Charlotte Gray, she remains a formidable woman.
"We are already planning her 100th birthday celebrations," said Ben Provost, the bar manager. "Nancy is like family. She stayed here for VE day and celebrated her 90th birthday here; she is a party animal."
Perched in her special seat in the corner of the bar, Miss Wake said: "It is my hope that I can stay here until I die. They are all my friends here; we have a good life."
All around her are pictures of famous guests and on one wall is the face of the young, uniformed Nancy Wake. Born in New Zealand, she was a journalist in Paris in the 1930s. When Hitler came to power, she interviewed him.
Observing the mounting atrocities against Jews, she was filled with determination to do something and after the fall of France quickly became involved in the Resistance.
She soon became a leading figure in a network that helped Dunkirk survivors, Allied airmen and Jews to safety. Every time the Germans tried to catch her she slipped away - earning her the nickname the White Mouse.
Eventually she had to flee herself, taking refuge in London. She left behind her husband, Henri Fiocca, who was tortured and killed as the Germans searched for her.
In Britain she became one of the 39 women and 430 men in the French section of the Special Operations Executive and in 1944 parachuted into France to prepare for the D-Day invasion, living rough and organising and training 7,000 Maquisards.
She became the most decorated woman of the Second World War. France awarded her two Croix de Guerre and the resistance medal. The Americans gave her the Medal of Freedom and the British the George Medal.
In 1946 Miss Wake pitched up at the Stafford Hotel, which had been a British and American forces club during the war, and perched at the bar for a "bloody good drink". She has returned to the spot regularly ever since.
Last November, Prince Charles invited her to tea at St James's Palace, and she met Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother several times.
Completely unfazed by the encounter, she turned down tea in favour of a stiffer drink and snaffled a piece of Christmas pudding in her handbag.
"Someone told me later that he was making a contribution to my bill here. I said: 'You're joking.' But I didn't ask for it, and there is nowhere else in London I would rather be."
I found this story rather touching. I don't know if anyone wants to raise money to pay her bill, as they aren't going to dare ask her to pay, but still, it's good to remember our real heroes.
The feminists of today have no idea of the hard work and sacrifice of those who went before. Here is one.
They seemed to go out of style after the 1950's, Love. Such a pity. But glad she's still with us. ;)
Great story, MadIvan. Thanks for posting it.
A much needed role model for today's info babes!
Don't worry, dear. I'll never be brave and noble like Nancy Wake, but by the time I'm ninety I plan to be at least as eccentric! I'm working on it now and have a good start already...