Code Name Hélène: Based on the thrilling true story of Nancy Wake, ‘The White Mouse’ by Ariel Lawhon
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 3.1 MB
February 29, 1944: I am about to jump out of an aeroplane for the first time … I don’t care that every man is looking at me as though I don’t belong. Besides, I’m hungover. And I think I might throw up …
In 1936 intrepid young Australian journalist Nancy Wake is living in Paris after witnessing firsthand the terror of Hitler’s rise in Europe, firing her resolve to fight against the Nazis. When Nancy falls in love with handsome French industrialist Henri Fiocca, no sooner has she become Mrs Fiocca than the Germans invade France and Nancy takes yet another name, a codename – the first of many.
As the elusive Lucienne Carlier she smuggles people across borders and earns a new name ‘The White Mouse’ along with a five million franc bounty on her head, courtesy of the Gestapo. Forced to flee France, Nancy is trained by an elite espionage group under the codename Hélène. Finally, with mission in hand, she is airdropped back into France as the deadly Madame Andrée. But the closer to liberation France gets, the more exposed Nancy – and the people she loves – will become.
Based on the true story of an extraordinary woman who saved countless lives,
I have gone by many names.
Some of them are real—I was given four at birth alone—but most are carefully constructed personas to get me through checkpoints and across borders. They are lies scribbled on forged travel documents. Typed neatly in government files. Splashed across wanted posters. My identity is an ever-shifting thing that adapts to the need at hand.
Tonight, I am Hélène and I am going home.
It is February 29. Leap Day. The irony of this is not lost on me, because I am about to jump out of an aeroplane for the first time. I’ve only just been lifted into the belly of the Liberator bomber like a clumsily wrapped package. Me in slacks, blouse, and silk stockings beneath my coveralls, tin hat, and British army boots. The camel-haired coat and parachute pack don’t do much to help the ensemble. But this isn’t a fashion show and I’m not here to make friends, so I don’t care that every man on this plane is looking at me as though I don’t belong. Besides, I’m hungover. And I think I might throw up.
There are only four of us on this flight: an RAF pilot, a dispatcher, “Hubert”—my partner on this mission—and myself. A motley crew indeed. I settle into the jump seat across from Hubert and we watch with trepidation as the aperture in the floor closes. There’s a grinding of gears and the clank of metal and then we’re locked inside. I very much regret that third bottle of wine I shared with the boys last night. Headquarters delayed the mission by an entire day so we would have extra time to memorize key details of our cover story, which meant that, for the second night in a row, we raucously celebrated our looming departure and likely death. By the end of it we were singing “Blood on the Risers” at the top of our lungs, and now I can’t get the stupid song out of my head.
“Gory, gory what a helluva way to die…,” I hum, only to find the pilot staring at me with a bemused grin. I shrug. It’s the truth. This would be a helluva way to die. Too late now, though, because all four engines shudder to life with an angry bellow.
I begin counting as the plane rumbles across the aerodrome. Ten. Twenty. Thirty—good grief, when will this thing ever get off the ground?—forty. And then my stomach drops as we lurch into the air like a drunken seabird. The Liberator heaves and rumbles its way into the low-hanging clouds over the English countryside, sounding all the while as though someone has tossed a pound of bolts into a meat grinder.
Once we’re through the clouds and the engines dim to a lesser roar, the dispatcher looks at me and shouts, “Witch?”
Under normal circumstances I would be offended, but Witch is my code name for this flight. I nod in the affirmative.
He turns back to his control panel and radios Command. “Witch on board”—a pause and then a glance at Hubert—“Pudding as well. Approximately two hours until the drop.”