So I’m doing something a little different for this entry. Instead of doing this breezy info-comic style, I’m doing a full-on graphic novel-length comic on the life of Nancy Wake. I’ll be releasing it in installments, divided out into different chapters of her life, as I complete it.
As it stands, I plan for this to be the last RP entry I do, at least for a long while. I’ve been doing this for five years now – when I started, there was almost nobody else doing this sort of work. But now, if I stop for a bit, there will be others carrying the torch.
I don’t plan on just slinking off into the ether. There’s other projects I want to be doing, which I’ve been putting together (which explains the slow posting rate here). I’ll be announcing those near the completion of the Nancy Wake story.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you’ll enjoy Nancy’s story. It’s truly incredible.
- I go into this in more detail throughout, but Nancy gave many interviews later in her life where subtle details don’t quite add up or fit. Where I’ve run into these, as opposed to directly portraying verbatim what she described, I portray a more verifiably-plausible version. I absolutely believe the crux of her stories — and given her extensive collection of war medals, so did many governments and militaries — but I also believe she inflated her tales somewhat, as many do. ↩
- Nancy was born in New Zealand, and was descended from broadly western European lineage, with the exception of her great-great-grandmother Pourewa, who was Maori. Her father left when she was very young and her strict religious mother raised her alone. She had four siblings, most of them much older. ↩
- This incident, of her writing a fairly innocuous dirty rhyme and being excoriated by her mother, is recounted verbatim in the FitzSimmons book. For those who have trouble with the handwriting, it reads: “Isn’t it funny / to see a little bunny / waiting for her Mummy / to come and wipe her bummy?” ↩
- This was far from the last time she engaged in bawdy wordplay. Another instance, several years later, had her making fun of an unfortunately-named teacher, Fanny Menlove, by transposing her surname and given name to make the most obvious possible joke. ↩
- Anne of Green Gables is a book (well, first of several) about a young girl who goes to live with another family and ends up on a lot of adventures. Nancy loved this book and Anne of the Island, and took them with her wherever she went. ↩
- Skipping over a LOT of her story here. She ran away at 16, stayed with one of her siblings, took on a different name (where the middle name was Anne, off of Anne of Green Gables), and started working as a nurse. One anecdote I’m gutted I couldn’t fit in had her and another young nurse getting shitfaced on wine to handle carting out a dead patient, only for them to slip in the mud, the corpse to slip out of their hands, and for them to realize he was enormously well-endowed. ↩
- Her aunt Hinamoa, one of the black sheep of the family, gave her 200 pounds to go out and travel. She hit up Vancouver, New York, and London, where she went to school for journalism. Along the way, she got into a fight with a boxer over a game of cards and got hit on by a lesbian woman, at which point she decided, somewhat to her chagrin, that she was straight. She had a lot of stories. ↩
- This interview is basically verbatim lifted from her telling of it. Her hairstyle, the Eton Crop, was taken from her love of contemporary movie star Tallulah Bankhead. ↩
- Yes, she actually went to clubs with her dog, a wire terrier named Picon. ↩
- Henri was a wealthy industrialist and man about town. Nancy talked a fair bit about the nasty and frequent sex they would have. ↩
- This scene actually happened at the end of the club night, as opposed to them ditching their dates in the middle of a dance, but I maintain that’s something they would have done. ↩
- If it isn’t obvious, these are Jewish refugees, whom she met at her favorite cafe in Paris, Luigi’s. ↩
- I’m pretty proud of the background in panel one. I am trying to do more full-painted backgrounds and it came out well. ↩
- So here is a deviation from the story as she tells it. She recounts going to Berlin in 1935, seeing Jews tied to wheels and whipped, and Hitler giving a speech in front of Brandenberg Gate. I could find no mention anywhere of Nazis strapping people to wheels for public shaming, or for them using whips outside of concentration camps (and occasionally, by Hitler, for show). Hitler did speak in Berlin at Brandenberg Gate, but in 1936, for the Olympics. I’ve no doubt, however, that she saw some awful treatment of Jews, so I instead portrayed some incidents for which I could find photo evidence, and hit the same note in her life. The guy on the right is using a metal baton with a leather strap on the end of it, which is the closest thing to a “whip” I could find used by street patrols. ↩
- The background of the top panel shows a window with the word “JUDE” (Jew) painted on it, and some actual flyers handed out that warned against racial mixing. ↩
- As she describes it, this scene actually would have happened before she met Henri (in 1936), but it the story flowed better if it was slotted it in here. ↩
- Henri’s parents hated Nancy. And they did get them super drunk at their wedding. ↩
- At this point, war is about to break out, and Henri has been drafted into the French army to defend against Germany. Partly their marriage was hurried up because it felt like they didn’t have much time to enjoy life before all hell broke loose. ↩
- I had to skip a couple interesting beats here for time. Henri got drafted into the French military, which fell to the Germans shortly thereafter. Nancy was briefly an ambulance driver on the front lines, using a truck she demanded Henri get for her. After France fell to the Nazis, they became (outwardly) socialites. ↩
- I’m doing a lot of time compression here. Nancy has, at this period in her life, been pulling a Bruce Wayne routine for the past three years — airhead party girl by day, deadly-serious resistance courier by night. She seemed to always be traveling for her glam lifestyle, but really she was a courier between resistance pockets, and used fake names on the road. Henri stayed at home, ran his business, and set her up with money. ↩
- The details of how she joined the resistance aren’t that interesting; basically, she was a vocal malcontent (what? our Nancy? never!) and was eventually introduced to a British officer, who involves her in larger plans. She did a bit of radio operation in this period too, with a radio in her bag and an earpiece running up to her ear. ↩
- The one thing I wish I could get across more about this period was the paranoid tenor of the times: she couldn’t trust that her neighbors wouldn’t rat her out to the Germans, and everyone suspected everyone else. ↩
- This dialogue is recounted verbatim in the FitzSimmons book. The historical gendarme’s reaction was a bit different though — he let her through out of horny solidarity with other military men. She even went on dates with Germans occasionally in this period. ↩
- This is Madame Sainson, one of the chief collaborators on what they called the Pat O’Leary Line, an escape route for Jews and downed allies. You can see she’s got a ton holed up in her apartment. Many of the Jews came from Poland, and may have been sent along by previously-covered RP Irena Sendler. ↩
- Also, yes, Madame Sainson is holding a grenade in her hand in the third panel. She really answered the door with a grenade. ↩
- Henri gave her the money that she smuggled in toothpaste tubes (hence him making sure she remembered her toothpaste when she left). ↩
- This is a severe compression of a very elaborate series of intrigues that I didn’t have time for. As previously mentioned, Nancy was part of the Pat O’Leary line, which smuggled POWs and Jews out of German-held regions. They’d been lain low by a double agent that Nancy had never trusted. She literally threw him out of his house the first time she met him. In her words: “I always think that’s how I never got arrested, because I didn’t like the way he came into my place, because he kicked the dog out of the chair and he drank my bloody whiskey.” ↩
- The double-agent, Harold Cole (aka Paul) had gotten Lt. Ian Garrow, one of the higher-ups, arrested, and Nancy was part of the plot to get him out. She bribed a guard to give him a guard outfit (that she’d also obtained) and to unlock his cell at a certain point. This scene took place in Nov 1942. On Dec. 8, 1942, Garrow escaped. ↩
- The quote in the last panel is verbatim from her telling, but it wasn’t delivered to the man she was bribing. She’d had the money wired to a local post office to give to the bribed guard, which prompted other Germans to question her as to why she had so much money. That was the response she gave. ↩
- Again, playing with time here. Hitler torched Marseille’s Vieux port (the source of much resistance to the Germans) in January 1943, whereas her trip to Meauzac to bribe a guard happened in November 1942. ↩
- This sequence didn’t actually happen as shown — but I wanted to get across how important Henri was to her, and the real sense of fear they lived with near the end of her time here. In reality, this cat-and-mouse game went on a fair bit longer. Germans tapped her phone, read her mail, and thought she might be a prostitute for a while. Some wanted to accuse her of blowing up a cinema in Toulouse, Inglorious Basterds-style, although she didn’t do that. ↩
- Yes, they made actual vows of infidelity. That’s almost verbatim what they said to each other. Henri hadn’t really been super faithful to that point anyway, but she had made her peace with it. She’d had her flirtations through their marriage, although she’d not acted on any. ↩
- By this point, when she went into hiding, she had helped, it is thought, 1,037 people escape. ↩
The main image has a bunch of callbacks to her story — her destroying bridges, calling in airdropped supplies (with her handy radio operator, Denis Rake!), and her infamous 400km bike ride.
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Next Time on Rejected Princesses
As mentioned in the entry, this is the last entry I plan on doing for a while. I will continue to add chapters of her life as I finish them, and it will likely be north of a hundred pages when completed.