Noor Inayat Khan: the spy princess of World War II
A Muslim woman secret agent was executed by the German Gestapo on 13th September 1944.
Here I will review the fascinating book by Shrabani Basu ‘Spy Princess. The Life Of Noor Inayat Khan’, written in 2006.
Noor was born in Moscow in 1914. Her father was Hazrat Inayat Khan, a world travelling, distinguished Sufi preacher and musician. He was a descendant of Tipu Sultan the historic 18th century ruler, the ‘Tiger of Mysore’. Noor’s mother was an American, Ora Ray Baker.
They named her Noor un Nisa, ‘Light of Womanhood’.
Noor ‘s childhood was spent in Paris and she became a children’s story writer. Her father passed away when she was 13 years old. Noor with her mother and siblings moved to England in 1940, after the Germans invaded France in World War 2.
Noor had a very peaceful upbringing however after witnessing the injustices of war, she desperately wanted to help in the Allied war effort against the Germans. Noor joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) were she learnt wireless operations, including Morse code. This became an area of expertise for her. Noor was fluent in French and English, which was considered to be a strong asset in her defence role.
Noor the gentle children’s writer applied and passed selection for the Special Operations Executive (SOE). This department supported the resistance movements in occupied countries. The work was very dangerous, being on the frontline in active service. At the interview Noor bravely told the British that she wanted independence for India, but now wished to support the Allies against Germany.
She was taught to shoot, handle weapons and explosives. Undergoing tough military and physical training.
She continued to excel at radio operations work. She was drilled about codes, cover stories and even underwent a frightening mock interrogation.
Noor was the first female radio operator to be flown into German-occupied France. The chances of capture were very high. In June 1943, on a full moonlit night she was dropped into France and made her way to Paris. A place that was home to her and she knew very well. She had to stay in ‘safe houses’ to escape the Germans hunting her down. In secret she continued to provide a very useful role, transmitting important messages back to England. Her trusted radio equipment was with her all the time. The aerial had to be hung on a tree or roof to transmit signals.
The Germans could monitor her signals but not decipher them, hence she became a ‘high value target’.
The bravery and courage that Noor displayed was incredible. Indeed her great ancestor Tipu Sultan would have been proud of her. Unfortunately just as he was betrayed, Noor also was a victim of a ‘friendly’ contact who informed the Germans about her for financial reward.
The German Gestapo arrested Noor, however she didn’t give up without a fierce fight causing them injuries.
In a French prison she made several attempts to escape, on one occasion reaching a building roof. She was recaptured and transferred to a high security German prison, as she was labelled a ‘very dangerous’ prisoner. She was kept in isolation, chained in a small cell, with minimal rations.
She faced a horrific interrogation and was tortured but remained silent.
On the 13th September 1944, in Dachau concentration camp, Germany, at the age of 30 years Noor Inayat Khan was shot.
Her final word was ‘LIBERTE’ which are French for ‘FREEDOM’.
Less than a year later the Germans were defeated by the Allies.
In 1946 she was awarded the French Croixe de Guerre, in 1949 the British George Cross.
In 2012 her statue was unveiled at Gordon Square Gardens in London.
We should never forget what Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim women, descendant of Tipu Sultan did in World War 2.