Nancy Wake, World War II's 'White Mouse,' Hid Hundreds of Soldiers

A member of French Resistance, she died at the age of 98 on Sunday.

ByABC News
August 12, 2011, 2:17 AM

Aug. 12, 2011 — -- At first glance at a vintage photo of her, she seems to be a movie star from another era.

Nancy Wake and her Australian vitality charmed the heir to a giant French shipping fortune into marrying her. She was set to live a life of champagne on the Riviera, when the Nazis moved into France.

"I was a young girl full of the joys of spring," she once told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. during a book signing. "I'm irrepressible, I'm boisterous and I love it all."

She used that irrepressible nerve and her wealth to start hiding British soldiers. Eventually, hundreds of them were spirited away to safety.

Wake died Sunday in a nursing home in London at the age of 98.

"Nancy Wake was a woman of exceptional courage and resourcefulness whose daring exploits saved the lives of hundreds of Allied personnel and helped bring the Nazi occupation of France to an end," Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a statement.

To the Nazis, Wake was mysterious and elusive. They dubbed her "the White Mouse" because when they were on her heels, she escaped only by hiking 50 hours through the Pyrenees in espadrilles, finally making it to Spain.

'She Was a Gorgeous-Looking Woman'

"Part of it was she was a gorgeous-looking woman," her biographer, Peter FitzSimons, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Monday. "The Germans were looking for someone who looked like them: aggressive, a man with guns -- and she was not like that."

Her life inspired the Hollywood movie "Charlotte Gray," which told how the British trained her to use firearms and her muscles to kill.

In the 1987 documentary, "Nancy Wake Codename: The White Mouse," she explained what happened next.

"There we were, huddled in the belly of our liberator bomber," she said, "bouncing about the sky, avoiding the German anti-aircraft guns. I was hardly Hollywood's idea of a glamorous spy."

She parachuted back into France and joined the French underground. She wore lipstick, powder and stockings to attract -- and pick off -- unsuspecting Nazis.