As someone who loves learning about different cultures and loves to travel, I also find myself fascinated by people who push their limits. In a sense, travelers are like all of the explorers and scientists before us. They have a curiosity that cannot be tamed and go out in the world to see what it has to discover. Sure, it’s easier to read about these places or watch a documentary but that is no where near as exciting or as satiating as the feeling of being there and exploring it on your own. We have an almost childlike behavior in that no matter how many times our parents tell us not to do something or try to explain why we do certain things, we have to go out and see this for ourselves. We cannot be told, we must learn from experience.
And so I thought it only fitting that we tribute some of the amazing people who have done these things before us. The ones that pushed the limits, went out and changed the world. Be it for travel, war, justice, you name it there are millions of people who have pushed the limits and made their mark. They are extraordinary in not only the things they accomplished but how they carried themselves as well. They are the most interesting people in the world. And to kick this series off, I have found a woman who truly pushed boundaries and kicked some ass. Nancy Wake.
Nancy Wake was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1912, only to move to Northern Sydney two years later. Nancy was the youngest of six children and had a bit of a rough upbringing. Her father abandoned the family when she was very young, leaving her, her mother, and her 5 siblings to survive on their own. She attended North Sydney Household Arts School to learn home science but left at the age of 16 to work as a nurse. And with the help of some money she had inherited, Nancy ran away to New York and then to London to pursue a career in journalism.
By the time Nancy was 22 she was working in Paris writing columns for a local newspaper and also having a bit of fun. Nancy was known to be out all night drinking gin and tonics, cussing like a sailor, but always finding the heart of a gentleman to pay for the night like a true lady.
Nancy enjoyed this time but it was when she traveled to Vienna to do a story on German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, which changed her life. From then on the Nazis movement grew, and soon wars were breaking out. Her husband was called into service and Nancy was urged to evacuate and lay low, but of course, Nancy being Nancy, decided she was going to signup to be a nurse instead. But her war service didn’t stop there.
Nancy began working in a safe house she purchased in France. She helped to recover downed pilots and forge identifications and papers for them to help send them to safety. She became a courier with the French Resistance and later joined an escape group. Nancy became so famous for her operations and ability to escape capture, she soon earned the nickname “The White Mouse”. And this is only the beginning of the badassery that Nancy accomplished.
During her time in the war, Nancy also became a special operations executive, which is really just a fancy title for spy. From 1944 until the French liberation, Nancy along with the 7,000+ Maquisards(French resistance fighters) fought over 22,000 German soldiers and caused 1,400 casualties. Not too bad. She spent her time doing risky attacks to destroy Nazi railways, factories, and more to hinder their progress. During these raids she faced countless Nazi who tried to kill her, one she even killed with her bare hands, but really, you don’t mess with Nancy.
After the war Nancy was decorated with medals and honors, some of which she sold and lived off of the rest of her life. Nancy lived to be 98 years old.
A few famous quotes from this wonderful lady:
“A little powder and a little drink on the way, and I’d pass their (German) posts and wink and say, ‘Do you want to search me?’ God, what a flirtatious little bastard I was.”
After parachuting out of a plane with guns and a radio, she got stuck in a tree. A French captain found her and said something cutesy like “I hope that all the trees in France bear such beautiful fruit this year,” to which she replied, “Don’t give me that French shit.”