While reading about heroic women, I find myself imagining what I would do in their shoes, and I find strength in their lives. Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhorn is a fictional novel based on the real life accomplishments of a heroic woman, WWII Special Operations spy Nancy Wake. Lawhorn tells Nancy’s story through alternating timelines using her different code names during the war.
Nancy Wake was one of the unsung heroines of WWII. An Australian woman who served with the British Special Operations Executive unit, she helped prepare occupied France for the D-Day invasion by the Allies. Nancy was brilliant, daring, and helped the Allies by organizing thousands of French resistance fighters. Her career began when she interviewed the newly elected German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, for Hearst. Of course, in the 1930s and 1940s, she never received any credit or even a byline for her articles.
When her wealthy, French husband was called to join the war effort, she became an ambulance driver and began smuggling Jewish refugees out of Europe. Then she parachuted into occupied France in 1944 and went behind enemy lines to lead and organize the French resistance groups. As an SOE commander she was known as “Helene,” and the Gestapo called her “the white mouse.”
From rescuing a fellow SOE officer from a concentration camp to organizing thousands of Maquis fighters with guns, ammunition and sabotage plans, Nancy was fearless and resourceful. She once cycled over 500 kilometers in occupied France to get a new radio for her resistance soldiers. Posthumously, she was given military service awards from Australia, France and England.
Ariel Lawhorn did extensive research and used primary sources like Nancy Wake’s autobiography and other historical documents to write her novel. In her author’s note, she mentions including 600 footnotes (not in the final book) that were part of her research. In addition to many fascinating historical details, Lawhorn also tells the beautiful love story of Nancy’s marriage.