Monthly Archives: August 2011

New Wartime Museum to Open in 2014

Reporter Kathy Stewart for, August 21, 2011:

Even though the walls aren’t up yet on a new local museum, about 7,000 people got a sneak peek of what it’s all about this weekend.

The American Wartime Museum held an open house at Aden Field — or the “Tank Farm” — in Nokesville, Va. Saturday and Sunday.

Craig Stewart, the museum’s president and CEO, says the event featured as many as 50 tanks and other armored vehicles on display, as well as a Huey helicopter and a flame-thrower demonstration.

“We do demonstrations and re-enactments during the day,” Stewart says.

Stewart says the vehicles are part of a larger collection of military vehicles that date back to World War I and are owned by the museum’s chairman, Allan Cors.

Stewart believes it’s the third-largest private collection of armored vehicles in the world.

The open house event gave visitors an insider’s look into what the new American Wartime Museum has to offer. Stewart says the actual museum is expected to open on Veteran’s Day in 2014. It’ll be located in Prince William County on about 70 acres of land right off of Interstate 95 and Dale Boulevard.

Stewart says the museum is about keeping history alive, but more importantly, it’s to educate young people about “the values that made our country great: service and sacrifice, duty and honor.

“And those will underline everything we do at the museum,” he says.



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Did Butch Cassidy Survive?

Mead Gruver for Associated Press, August 15, 2011:

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Did Butch Cassidy, the notorious Old West outlaw who most historians believe perished in a 1908 shootout in Bolivia, actually survive that battle and live to old age, peacefully and anonymously, in Washington state? And did he pen an autobiography detailing his exploits while cleverly casting the book as biography under another name?

A rare books collector says he has obtained a manuscript with new evidence that may give credence to that theory. The 200-page manuscript, “Bandit Invincible: The Story of Butch Cassidy,” which dates to 1934, is twice as long as a previously known but unpublished novella of the same title by William T. Phillips, a machinist who died in Spokane in 1937.

Utah book collector Brent Ashworth and Montana author Larry Pointer say the text contains the best evidence yet — with details only Cassidy could have known — that “Bandit Invincible” was not biography but autobiography, and that Phillips himself was the legendary outlaw.

Others aren’t convinced.

“Total horse pucky,” said Cassidy historian Dan Buck. “It doesn’t bear a great deal of relationship to Butch Cassidy’s real life, or Butch Cassidy’s life as we know it.”

Historians more or less agree that Cassidy was born Robert LeRoy Parker in 1866 in Beaver, Utah, the oldest of 13 children in a Mormon family. He robbed his first bank in 1889 in Telluride, Colo., and fell in with cattle rustlers who hid out at The Hole in the Wall, a refuge in northern Wyoming’s Johnson County. He left the area before cattle barons hunted down cattle-rustling homesteaders in the 1892 Johnson County War.

Cassidy then served a year and a half in Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie for possessing three stolen horses. But for the better part of the next 20 years, his Wild Bunch gang held up banks and trains across the West and in South America.

“Bandit Invincible’s” author claims to have known Cassidy since boyhood and never met “a more courageous and kinder hearted man.”

He acknowledges changing people and place names. But some descriptions fit details of Cassidy’s life too neatly to have come from anyone else, said Ashworth, owner of B. Ashworth’s Rare Books and Collectibles in Provo.

They include a judge’s meeting with Cassidy in prison in February 1895. The judge offered to “let bygones be bygones” and to seek a Cassidy pardon from the governor. Cassidy refused to shake the judge’s hand.

“I must tell you now that I will even my account with you, if it is the last act I ever do,” Cassidy is quoted as saying by Philips.

Wyoming’s state archives contain an 1895 letter by the judge who sentenced Cassidy. The letter relates how Cassidy seemed to harbor “ill-will” and didn’t accept the “friendly advances” of another judge, Jay Torrey, who’d visited Cassidy in prison.

Cassidy had sued Torrey’s ranch two years earlier for taking eight of his cattle, Pointer said.

“What’s really remarkable to me is that, who else cares?” Pointer said. “Who else would have remembered it in that kind of detail…about an offer of a handshake and refusing it in a prison in Wyoming in 1895?”

Gov. William Richards pardoned Cassidy in 1896.

“Bandit Invincible” also describes how Ed Seeley, a rustler and prospector, told Cassidy’s gang how to find a remote hideout in northern Wyoming’s Bighorn Canyon. Pointer, who authored “In Search of Butch Cassidy,” said he believes the Wild Bunch hid there more than at Hole in the Wall, which had become known to authorities.

“It had been used by (Seeley) one summer when he had been badly wanted by the sheriff’s forces along in ninety-one. Unless one had a guide who knew the entire country, it was impossible to find the place,” the manuscript says of the canyon hideout .

Records show that a rustler named Edward H. Seeley was imprisoned at Wyoming Territorial Prison while Cassidy was there, Pointer said.

“That’s just really exciting to me because this is really ephemeral stuff,” he said. “No one who had not been there or done that would know that.”

Nobody except for some cowboy who rode the range in the late 1800s, knew Cassidy’s friends and maybe even knew the outlaw himself, Buck suggested.

“There’s a sort of commonsense reason why Phillips would have got some stuff right,” Buck said. “They knew each other.”

In 1991, Buck and his wife, Anne Meadows, helped dig up a grave in San Vicente, Bolivia, said to contain the remains of Butch and his sidekick, Harry Longabaugh — the Sundance Kid. DNA testing revealed the bones weren’t the outlaws, but Buck, a writer who lives in Washington, D.C., said his research proved the two indeed died in a shootout with Bolivian cavalry in 1908.

Stories abound of Sundance living long after his time in South America. But they’re outnumbered by purported Cassidy sightings. A brother and sister of Cassidy’s insisted he visited them at a family ranch near Circleville, Utah, in 1925.

“The majority of those who were there believed that, believed it was him that came back,” said Bill Betenson, who recalled that his great-grandmother, Lula Parker Betenson, used to talk about the visit by a man she identified as her brother, Cassidy.

The manuscript has an ending fit for Hollywood. Cornered by the Bolivian cavalry while holding up a pack train, Butch and Sundance make a stand. Sundance is killed. Butch escapes to Europe, has plastic surgery in Paris, and schemes to return to the U.S. and reunite with an old girlfriend from Wyoming.

Most of the manuscript’s accounts bear little resemblance to known Wild Bunch exploits. Pointer insists that Cassidy, as Phillips, was writing fiction. Phillips did offer the story to Sunset magazine without drawing interest.

The earliest documentation of Phillips is his marriage to Gertrude Livesay in Adrian, Mich., in 1908, three months after Cassidy’s last known letter from Bolivia, according to Pointer. Buck insists they married several months before a documented Bolivian shootout that probably was the one in which Butch and Sundance were killed.

In 1911, the couple moved to Spokane, where their closest friends said years later that Phillips let them in on a secret: He was the famous outlaw.

In the 1930s, Phillips sold his interest in the foundering Phillips Manufacturing Company. He visited central Wyoming, where more than a few people in the Lander area, including one of Cassidy’s old girlfriends, said it was Cassidy who spent the summer of 1934 camping out in the Wind River Range, telling tales about the Wild Bunch and digging holes in search of buried loot.

“All of these people were bamboozled by this faker from Spokane …?” Pointer said. “These weren’t hayseed, duped ignorant people. These were pillars of our community. And if they said something, you had to better take it seriously.”

Phillips’ adopted son, William R. Phillips, believed his stepfather was Butch Cassidy, said Pointer, who interviewed him in the 1970s. William R. Phillips has since died.

In 1938, after her husband died of cancer, Gertrude Phillips told a Cassidy researcher that she and her husband had known Cassidy but that Phillips was not him. She did so only because she “didn’t want the notoriety,” Pointer said William R. Phillips told him.

DNA testing is unlikely to determine that Phillips, who was cremated, was Cassidy.

The many reports of later Wyoming sightings have convinced Carol Thiesse, director of the Fremont County Pioneer Museum in Lander.

“If Phillips wasn’t, he certainly knew a heck of a lot about Butch,” she said.


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Berlin Wall Turns Fifty

Story from The Christian Science Monitor, August 13, 2011:


Fifty years after the Berlin Wall was literally built overnight on Aug. 13, 1961, very little of it is left to look at. So little in fact, that some – even those who nearly lost their life because of it – want to see portions of the much-hated structure rebuilt.

Two years after former President Ronald Reagandeclared, “Tear down this wall!” the 1989 revolution not only led to Berlin‘s reunification but brought legions of souvenir-hunters to the city, chipping away at the “anti-fascist protection rampart” with chisels and hammers.

Industrial-size machinery joined the effort and by 1991 the wall, which East German leader Erich Honeckerhad promised would last a century, had all but disappeared. Ever since, historians have complained, and tourists have been disappointed.

“It was wrong to take all those pieces of Berlin Wall, paint them and send them off into the world as souvenirs of a peaceful revolution,” says Berlin’s former Mayor Eberhard Diepgen, who governed West Berlin from 1984-89 and a reunited Berlin for a decade beginning in 1991.

A few weeks ago Mr. Diepgen proposed to put parts of the wall back up, “as accurately as possible, with barbed wire, watch towers, and spring guns, so the brutality of the system is evident.” His article in a Berlin daily caused strong public reactions; readers called the idea “bizarre,” “ahistorical,” “the wrong signal for the city.”

The wall, reproduced

For the moment, the only place to find the wall as it once stood is away from the city center, on Bernauer Strasse, home of the Berlin Wall Documentation Center.

Bernauer Strasse wasn’t just divided down the middle like many other streets in Berlin. The border actually ran through houses – looking out of a window would mean your head was in the West while your body was still in the East.

In the first weeks after the wall was built, people rappelled from windows to escape, and a couple to be married in the West got its bridal bouquet thrown from a window by relatives stuck in the East. And the famous photograph of an East German border guard deserting and jumping the barbed wire was taken here.

Now the Berlin Wall Documentation Center gives an impression of what the border really looked like, including a 70-meter (230-foot) section of double wall, complete with death zone and watchtower.

“There were quite a few people who said, let’s keep a bit of the wall,” says Pastor Manfred Fischerof the Reconciliation Chapel, which is situated next to the documentation center. “The problem was, no one wanted to keep that very bit right in front of their door. So we said, let’s do it here, in Bernauer Strasse.”

Pastor Fischer fought hard to keep a part the wall intact. “It is the place where world history and people’s personal lives touched, were compressed into one,” he says, adding that divisions remain to be overcome even if the wall that cemented them is gone. “And even if most of it is gone, culturally, socially, politically Berlin has yet to reunite completely.”

A ‘Disney‘ version of the wall

A few miles southeast on the northern banks of theSpree river, there is another part of the wall that was kept – a part that critics like Mr. Diepgen dismiss as a “Disney version” of history.

The East Side Gallery is a strip of wall adorned with paintings by international artists who came to Berlin in the heady days of 1989-90, celebrating the revolution by splashing an explosion of color onto the white canvas that was the eastern side of the wall (the western side had been covered by graffiti for a long time already).

But critics complain that the use of the wall as a canvas for post-revolution art does little to show the harsh reality that the wall once represented. Instead of a memorial, they say, it’s merely a tourist attraction, where sight-seeing buses crawl past slowly so people can take pictures, and fake Russian military outfits can be bought from a stall.

A victim of the wall regrets its disappearance

Not far from the East Side Gallery, across the river at Elsenstrasse, one of the most dramatic of many escape attempts took place – but no plaque, no sign speaks of it.

As a young conscript in the East German army, Wolfgang Engels had to help build the wall in 1961. His unit was driven to Berlin and ordered to put up barbed wire barriers to keep people away from the building site that would turn into the Iron Curtain.

“I was the only Berliner in my unit,” he says. “We hardly understood what was going on, but I felt terrible.”

Two years later, the pressure had become too much. Mr. Engels decided to leave – and he wasn’t going quietly.

On the eve of the May 1 celebrations in East Berlin, Engels stole a tank that was meant to be part of the military parade, drove it through the city, and crashed it right into the wall.

When the wall withstood the collision, Engels got out and climbed it, getting shot twice in the process. But he was rescued by West Berliners, who pulled him out of the barbed wire and carried him to a nearby bar.

“I came to on top of the counter,” he says. “When I turned my head and saw all the Western brands of liquor on the shelf, I knew that I had made it.”

But does he think that more of the wall, which almost cost him his life, should have been preserved? Definitely yes, he says.

‘No matter if there are monuments’

His opinion is not shared by some among the younger generation, however.

“I don’t care that so little of the wall is left,” says Anna, a 20-year-old student.

She sits with her friends on the grass at Mauerpark, or wall park, not far from Pastor Fischer’s chapel. Nothing here reminds of the border, it’s just an open space where on summer weekends thousands of young people hang out, make music, and play volleyball. It’s a party place, where people dance on the ground that once was no-man’s land. Many of them weren’t even born when the wall fell.

“No matter if there are monuments or not,” Anna says. “Berlin is the exciting, lively, fresh place that it is, because the wall was there – and because it came down.”

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Hidden Italian Archive Reveals WWII Slaughter

Gia Marie Amella for CNN, August 12, 2011″

San Pancrazio, Italy (CNN) — The din of approaching vehicles shattered the silence over San Pancrazio at daybreak. It was June 29, 1944, when retreating German SS troops stormed the remote Tuscan village nestled in the Italian countryside.

Caught unaware, terrified villagers were forced from their homes and brought to the main square. After the women and children were escorted from the village, the men were taken to a cellar and executed. In all, 73 were killed.

That tragic day would forever haunt survivors, whose fathers, husbands and sons met a horrific end. The long and painful journey to justice would take decades.

San Pancrazio, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Florence, is one of hundreds of places across Italy where unspeakable atrocities targeting civilians occurred during World War II.

Between September 1943 and April 1945, the Nazis’ calculated campaign of violence spared no one. In some cases, women, children and the elderly were viciously murdered alongside the men, as villages were overrun.

“15,000 Italians were killed,” said Dr. Gianluca Fulvetti, a historian who has published two books on wartime atrocities in Italy. “This wasn’t only a war fought between armies. It was a war on civilians who unwittingly got involved and paid with their lives.”

Tuscany was one of the hardest-hit regions, as German troops retreated north following the liberation of Rome. Fulvetti estimates 3,650 people died there, the majority in June 1944.

The war on civilians was triggered by Benito Mussolini’s downfall in July 1943 when the Fascist dictator was arrested, paving the way for Italy’s armistice with the Allies.

Tens of thousands of Italian soldiers who had fought under Mussolini then took up arms to fight Nazi Germany.

In March 1944, partisans in Rome attacked a column of SS police officers, killing 33 Germans. On orders from German high command, 335 men and boys were rounded up and executed at the Ardeatine Caves, near Rome. The reprisal killings set the stage for how Germany would conduct the remainder of the war in Italy.

“Troops were ordered to retaliate against civilians as punishment for partisan actions,” Fulvetti said. Any form of resistance by civilians was cause for punishment, even simply refusing to shelter or feed German troops.

Clashes between local resistance and German troops near San Pancrazio spread fear of reprisals throughout the countryside. They came on June 29, when units of the notorious Hermann Goering Division stormed into homes and rounded up villagers in the town square.

Goffredo Cinelli, who had served in Italy’s air force before Mussolini’s ouster, hid in the attic, as his father was led away. “I heard the women and children crying,” he said. “My mother later said she went to speak to my father. A soldier turned her back and told her they were taking him to be tortured. She and my father both cried.”

The men’s actual fate soon became clear. Inside the cellar of a farmhouse, the local priest pleaded for his parishioners’ lives. After saying Mass, he was the first to die by gunfire at close range. The others were similarly executed. The Germans later set fire to the corpses, and to villagers’ homes.

That same day, 173 people were killed in the nearby villages of Cornia and Civitella.

Gabriella Panzieri lost several family members in the San Pancrazio massacre. Six years old at the time, she describes taking refuge in the woods with her mother. “I remember the flames rising from our village that night. It was like the whole world was on fire,” she said.

Allied troops reached San Pancrazio, by then reduced to rubble, two weeks later.

After the war, in 1946, a military court sentenced a former SS commander to life in prison for the Ardeatine Caves massacre. But plans for further trials were soon shelved.

The approaching Cold War dampened enthusiasm for ferreting out Nazi war criminals. “There was a growing reluctance to embarrass Germany,” said Dr. Paolo Pezzino, who teaches contemporary history at the University of Pisa.

“International justice took a back seat to realpolitik. The Communists were now the enemy. It was no longer the case to look back at the past but to face the future.”

Silence reigned for half a century. Then, in 1994, a startling discovery was made at the military tribunal in Rome. A forgotten archive revealed a treasure trove of evidence on hundreds of wartime atrocities, documented by Allied and Italian investigators.

Pezzino served as consultant to a parliamentary commission that looked into the motives behind the files’ concealment. He maintains that if they had been properly forwarded to the military courts immediately after the war, more war crime trials could have resulted. “This was a cover-up in every sense of the word,” he added.

The discovery of the so-called “cabinet of shame” triggered public outcry — and a renewed call for justice.

“I felt I had a moral obligation to provide answers,” said Marco De Paolis, currently Italy’s chief military prosecutor, who played a key role in reopening war crime cases. “And to bring a sense of justice to hundreds of people who had been waiting over 50 years.”

Since 2002, De Paolis has tried more than a dozen cases, several resulting in convictions.

By 2007, all but one defendant accused in the San Pancrazio massacre had died. Max Josef Milde, 82 when the trial started, was tried in absentia, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the shooting deaths of 203 of the men, women and children in San Pancrazio, Civitella and Cornia.

“When the sentence was pronounced, I felt the cry of justice,” recalled Mayor Sauro Testi, who accompanied survivors and family members to the sentencing. “The state had finally responded.”

Milde has always maintained his innocence, and has not shown up to serve his sentence.

While German authorities helped with the case, Germany does not extradite its citizens convicted of war crimes in other countries.

Still, his conviction was welcomed by many victims’ families.

“It was an historic moment in which someone was declared guilty,” says Michele Panzieri, who lost several family members to the tragedy. “It’s important to never forget, but you have to forgive in the end.”

Cinelli, now 92, the air force veteran whose father was killed in the massacre, had a different reaction.

“I knew nothing would be resolved in the end. After 60 years?” he shrugged. “It was a time when there was enormous hate between those who were fascist and those who weren’t. It was a tremendous struggle.”

Even after the conviction, San Pancrazio refuses to forget its past. Every year, villagers hold a candlelight procession on the anniversary of the tragedy, to remember the victims.

Michele Panzieri’s father, Enzo, is president of a local association dedicated to preserving the memory of the tragedy. He was an infant when the front swept through Tuscany and took with it the father he never knew.

On a recent afternoon, he could be seen talking to a group of students inside the farmhouse cellar — now a museum — answering their questions with restrained candor and insight. “I enjoy talking to the kids and sometimes I’ve seen them get emotional,” Panzieri said.

“The youth of today will lead Italy tomorrow. They need to see these things so they’re never repeated.”

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Possible Slave Quarters Found at William and Mary

Daviel de Vise for The Washington Post, August 9, 2011:

Archaeologists at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg have uncovered the brick foundations of a Colonial-era structure that may have housed slaves who cooked and cleaned for students and faculty.

The remnants sit next to the Wren Building, the core of the historic campus. Scholars believe that they are the traces of an outbuilding — sleeping quarters, perhaps, or a kitchen or a laundry — built in the 18th century for slaves who lived and worked at the college.

(Courtesy of Stephen Salpukas) – Archaeologists look at their find.

 The find is “a little bit of a miracle” for William and Mary — the nation’s second-oldest college — and for Williamsburg, once Virginia’s Colonial capital, a historic district that has been nearly picked clean by archaeologists and anthropologists, said Louise Kale, executive director of the school’s Historic Campus.

“One of the things that this reminds us is there is still wonderful information out there that is being given up by the ground,” she said.

William and Mary, founded in 1693, about a half century after Harvard, plays a prominent role in a movement by American colleges to come to terms with slavery. The school owned slaves, as did some of its faculty members and even students, and slave labor erected the core campus buildings.

The quest to revisit such wrongs has also yielded a few inspiring discoveries at William and Mary, such as an 18th-century structure that may be the nation’s oldest surviving schoolhouse for African American children.

A portion of the newest find was partly unearthed a year and a half ago, when workers were involved in an archaeological survey to prepare for utility upgrades.

But they didn’t realize the full scale until this summer, when a different survey — this time for a proposed sidewalk-widening — uncovered another section of brick.

Further digging revealed that the two were part of the same building, a 16-by-20 structure archaeologists consider “fairly massive” for a dwelling of that time.

No one knows for sure how the building was used; records of many campus structures from the Colonial era are “really kind of skimpy,” owing to fires that periodically gutted the Wren Building, said Joe Jones, director of the William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research.

Analysis of building materials and artifacts recovered from the site, including fragments of ceramic and glass, suggest that the structure dates to the middle of the 18th century, Jones said.

The college will prepare for a more thorough excavation.

Neil Norman, a William and Mary anthropology professor who studies Africa and the African diaspora, said the site may help scholars better understand the lives of the African Americans who lived in virtual anonymity alongside whites on campus.


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Nagasaki Remembers A-Bomb

Yuri Kageyama for The Associated Press, August 9, 2011:

TOKYO (AP) — The United States sent a representative for the first time Tuesday to the annual memorial service for victims of theatomic bombing of Nagasaki, one of two nuclear attacks that led Japan to surrender in World War II.


The U.S. bombing of Nagasaki 66 years ago killed some 80,000 people. Three days earlier, the U.S. had dropped another atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing up to 140,000.

U.S. Charge d’Affaires James P. Zumwalt, the first American representative to attend the Nagasaki memorial service, said in a statement that President Barack Obama hoped to work with Japan toward his goal “of realizing a world without nuclear weapons” — a commitment Japan has made repeatedly since the war.

Obama last year sent Ambassador John Roos to the 65th anniversary of the bombing in Hiroshima, and Roos visited Nagasaki twice last year on other dates, according to the U.S. Embassy in Japan.

Zumwalt joined Nagasaki’s residents and mayor on Tuesday in observing a moment of silence at 11:02 a.m. — the moment the bomb dropped on the city on Aug. 9, 1945, in the closing days of the war. Six days later Japan surrendered.

As in past years, a bell rang out in a prayer for peace, and bomb victims who were children during the attack sang a song called “Never Again.”

Mayor Tomihisa Taue called on Japan to change its nuclear policy and reject not just atomic weapons but also nuclear power — as decades-old fears of radiation sickness were renewed in March by a nuclear power plant disaster following a massive earthquake and tsunami.

“Why must this nation that has so long fought for bomb victims once again live in fear of radiation?” Taue said. “The time has come to thoroughly talk about what kind of society we want and make a choice.”

He called for a shift from nuclear reactors — Japan has 54 along its coast — to renewable energy sources.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan promised that Japan would work to become less dependent on nuclear energy with the aim of “becoming a society free of dependence on nuclear power.”

“We must never forget,” he said of Nagasaki, “and it must never be repeated.”

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Australian WWII French Resistance Spy Dies

Madeleine Coorey for AFP, August 8, 2011:

Nancy Wake, Australia’s greatest World War II heroine and a prominent figure in the French Resistance known as the “The White Mouse” for her ability to evade the Germans, has died in London.


Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the woman who was once the Gestapo’s most wanted person, was “a devastatingly effective saboteur and spy”.

“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,” Gillard said.

Wake, who died in a London hospital on Sunday just days short of her 99th birthday, was the nation’s most decorated servicewoman from WWII, holding France’s Legion d’Honneur, Britain’s George Medal and the US Medal of Freedom.

Born in Wellington, New Zealand, she grew up in Australia and politicians in both countries led tributes to the woman who survived several firefights with the enemy, being shot at in a pursuit and a brief imprisonment during the war.

New Zealand’s Veterans’ Affairs Minister Judith Collins described Wake as “a woman of exceptional courage and tenacity, who cast aside all regard for her own safety and put the cause of freedom first”.

Australian National Party leader Warren Truss said Wake’s heroic achievements “are the stuff of legend”.

“And all Australians feel very proud of this wonderful woman,” he said.

Wake ran away from home aged 16 and by the early 1930s was living in Paris, where she worked as a journalist.

Witnesses to the rise of fascism in Europe, Wake and her wealthy industrialist husband Henri Fiocca joined the fledgling Resistance after France’s surrender in 1940.

She once described a visit to Austria in 1933 as a first-hand look at Nazi cruelty.

“In Vienna they had a big wheel and they had the Jews tied to it, and the stormtroopers were there, whipping them. When we were going out of Vienna they took our photos. That was my experience of Hitler,” Wake said.

Wake and her husband helped Allied servicemen and Jewish refugees escape into Spain before she took her partner’s advice and fled to England in 1943, where she began work in special operations.

She parachuted back into France in April 1944 before D-Day, tasked with helping distribute weapons to Resistance fighters.

“In those days it was safer, or a woman had more chance than a man, to get around, because the Germans were taking men out just like that,” she later recounted.

Wake was never to see Fiocca again, learning only after the liberation of France that he had been killed by the Gestapo in August 1943.

After the war, Wake returned to Australia in 1949, where she made several failed attempts to win a seat in parliament.

She went back to England, where in 1957 she married RAF officer John Forward, but the couple settled in Australia within two years, living there for the next four decades until Forward’s death in 1997.

Restless again, Wake left Australia for England in 2001 with the intention of remaining there for the rest of her life.

The fearless heroine was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2004, praised for her outstanding actions in wartime.

She is expected to be cremated privately and her ashes scattered at Montlucon in central France, scene of her 1944 heroism.

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