Between 2001and 2003, visitors to The Stafford hotel in London were likely to find an old lady in the corner of the American Bar: Nancy Wake. She was living at The Stafford, the costs of her stay met by who knows whom?
Someone, no doubt, who admired her role in the French Résistance, which made her the Gestapo’s most wanted person. It may have helped that the hotel’s general manager, Louis Burdet, had also been in the maquis.
During the Second World War, the Stafford was a meeting place for the Free French. In 2011, Nancy died in a nursing home at the age of 98, but her chair in the American Bar is preserved, along with a display of photographs and newspaper clippings.
Other guests from the Second World War may not be known by name, but are also remembered. Descend to the cellars, which date from the 17th century, and walk past, if you can, the racks of fine vintages.
You’ll be rewarded with an evocative display of gasmasks, helmets, hurricane lamps, tobacco tins and newspapers—the stuff of life during the Blitz, when the cellars were used as an air-raid shelter. Regulars formed themselves into the Better ’Ole Club. ‘Well, if you know of a better ’ole,’ ran Cpt Bruce Bairnsfather’s cartoon from the trenches, ‘go to it.’
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* This article was first published in Country Life magazine on July 23 2014