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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Adieu to the White Mouse

30 August 1912 – 7 August 2011
Nancy Wake, legendary World War II heroine, died a week ago. Originally from New Zealand, she later moved to London, married a Frenchman, and served as a British agent during the later part of WWII. She was an important and fearless leader of maquis groups of the French Resistance and became one of the most decorated servicewomen of the war. The German's called her the "White Mouse" for her ability to slip through their traps; she was on their most wanted list in 1943.

Besides being loyal, tough and even ruthless, she was also fun and feminine. Her obituary in the Economist magazine notes:

CONVIVIAL, and not averse to a drink, Nancy Wake could often be found cheering up a cocktail bar. In the late 1940s, and again towards the end of her life, it might have been the American Bar of the Stafford Hotel, just across the road from The Economist’s offices in London.
And it was in the dining room of the Stafford Hotel that I met her about ten years ago.

When traveling alone to London, I often like to stay at the Stafford Hotel.  Tucked away behind Piccadilly and St. James Street and adjacent to Green Park, it is a sophisticated hotel, near everything I like, yet homey and relaxing at the same time. The dining room is small, elegant, and a comfortable place for a woman to have dinner alone.

So it was, one night, while seated on a banquet having my dinner, I noticed a little old lady dining alone at the table to my right. She was eating a cream soup and crackers and wanted ice cream. But, the charming waiters would not let her have ice cream if she did not finish her soup and eat more vegetables. A bit of friendly banter followed and finally, they brought her ice cream. She turned to look at me and happily remarked:  "they always do as I ask."

That experience only confirmed my liking for the hotel and it's staff. A few years later, when Mr. Wonderful and I travelled to London, I insisted that we stay at the Stafford. When we were having dinner in the dining room I noticed that the little old lady was not there. I asked the maitre d' about her and told him about the dinner vignette I'd once witnessed. He told us who she was and quickly brought several photos of her from the American Bar ... including the photo above. He then said that Nancy Wake had suffered a fall and had relocated to a nursing home for ex-service men and women.

I was saddened to learn of her death when reading the Economist this morning.  They just don't make them like that any more.  Or do they?

P.S.  Nancy Wake wrote an autobiography in 1986 called, White Mouse A more recent biography by Russell Braddon is also available.

1 comment:

  1. What a fabulous, brave, and intriguing woman she was. I really want to read her biography. And how NEAT that you got to see some of her spirit!


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