Noor Inayat Khan

Noor Inayat Khan

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Noor Inayat Khan was born in the Soviet Union on 1st January 1914. Noor was the great-great-great-granddaughter of Tipu Sultan, the eighteenth-century Muslim ruler who died in the struggle against the British. Shortly after her birth in Moscow the family moved to England and later settled in France.

After studying music and medicine Noor became a writer. Her children stories were published in Figaro and a collection of traditional Indian stories, Twenty Jataka Tales, appeared in 1939.

On the outbreak of the Second World War she trained as a nurse with the Red Cross. In May 1940 France was invaded by the German Army. Just before the French government surrendered she escaped to England with her mother and sister.

In England she joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and trained as a wireless operator. While working at a Royal Air Force bomber station, her ability to speak French fluently brought her to the attention of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). After being interviewed at the War Office she agreed to become a British special agent.

Given the codename "Madeleine" she was flown to Le Mans with Diana Rowden and Cecily Lefort on 16th June 1943. She travelled to Paris where she joined the Prosper Network led by Francis Suttill. Soon after arriving a large number of members of the resistance group associated with Prosper were arrested by the Gestapo. Fearing that the group had been infiltrated by a German spy, she was instructed to return home. However, she declined, arguing that she was the only wireless operator left in the group.

Noor continued to keep the Special Operations Executive in London informed by wireless what was going on in France. She also made attempts to rebuild the Prosper Network. However, it appears that the Gestapo already knew of her existence and were following her in an attempt to capture other members of the French Resistance.

After three and a half months in France Noor was arrested in October and taken to Gestapo Headquarters. She was interrogated and although she remained silent they discovered a book in her possession where she had recorded the messages she had been sending and receiving. The Gestapo were able to break her code and were able to send false information to the SOE in London and enabled them to capture three more secret agents landed in France.

Noor was taken to Nazi Germany where she was imprisoned at Karlsruhe. In the summer of 1944, Noor, and three other SOE agents, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman and Madeleine Damerment, were moved to Dachau Concentration Camp. The four women were murdered by the Schutz Staffeinel (SS) on 12th September, 1944. In 1949 Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

I see her very clearly as she was that first afternoon, sitting in front of me in that dingy little room, in a hard kitchen chair at the other side of a bare wooden table. Indeed, of them all - and they were many - who did not return, I find myself constantly remembering her with a curious and very personal vividness which outshines the rest. The small, still features, the dark, quiet eyes, the soft voice and the fine spirit glowing in her.

As the war progressed and supplies improved, we were able to send out by parachute to our operators a fair quantity of radio transmitters, cunningly camouflaged, and they were bidden to jettison or abandon sets whose use might seem to them particularly dangerous. The care with which our agents treated their sets was demonstrated to me in no uncertain manner after the war, when, in my travels round the areas where our people had been working, I was handed the jealously guarded suitcases containing transmitters - 'still in perfect working order', I was assured.

It was evidently essential to relieve, as much as we could, the burden of traffic over the 'clandestine air'. We quickly realized the possibility of using the BBC French Service for sending out previously arranged conventional messages. This system eliminated the need for the intricate coding and decoding which was necessary in sending our Morse messages. For there were many occasions on which a prearranged signal, totally meaningless to the enemy, gave an agent the clue for which he was waiting.

Ten days after Professor Balachowsky retrieved her luggage on a peaceful June night, he was arrested. During the following week, dozens of French agents were rounded up. In London, a signal was delivered to Maurice Buckmaster at Baker Street. It reported the destruction of the Prosper network. All the leaders and their equipment had been captured, and only one transmitter remained in operation. That was Madeleine, whose call sign ended the message.

Buckmaster surveyed the area of disaster. He was to say later that Berlin security headquarters regarded the French network as the heart of the secret army that was most dangerous to the Third Reich. Now it was smashed. Buckmaster told Madeleine to get out of Paris; an aircraft would be sent to pick her up. The girl replied no. She was the only operator left in the Paris region. Without her, all communication would be lost. She could pick up some threads and reconstruct at least one circuit, if not more.

Buckmaster made a hard decision. If the girl stayed, it could be only a matter of time before she was caught. Yet the catastrophe had left her as the most important "station" in France. He signaled approval, but warned her not to transmit. All Gestapo detection gear would be trained on her transmitter now that the rest had been wiped out.

The girl, on her own now, moved about Paris looking for old school friends. She found her former music teacher, Henriette Renie, for instance. One contact led to another. She stayed briefly in different parts of the city, trying not to compromise those who showed hospitality. She had a bicycle and carried the transmitter with her. Despite Buckmaster's warnings, she began regular transmissions from the first week of July and she continued until October, when she was caught and taken to Gestapo headquarters.

Following her arrival the Gestapo made mass arrests in the Paris Resistance groups to which she had been detailed. She refused to abandon what had become the principal and most dangerous post in France, although given the opportunity to return to England. She did not wish to leave her French comrades without communications and she hoped also to rebuild her group.

The Gestapo had a full description of her but knew only her code name Madeleine. They deployed considerable forces in their effort to catch her and so break the last remaining link with London. After three and a half months she was betrayed to the Gestapo and taken to their HQ in the Avenue Foch. The Gestapo had found her codes and messages and were in a position to work back to London. They asked her to cooperate, but she refused and gave them no information of any kind.

Noor Inayat-Khan

In 1943, at the height of the Second World War, Noor Inayat-Khan became one of the first female radio operators to go undercover in Nazi-occupied France. She had volunteered for the Special Operations Executive, a secret organisation that worked behind enemy lines.

Noor’s role was to link the French resistance with her HQ, organising supplies and weapons for the fight for liberation. She was, in other words, a secret agent.

Noor was sent to Paris, armed with a pistol and a suitcase-radio. But, due to her Sufi background and upbringing, she was a pacifist. The first thing she did when she landed in France was to bury her pistol.

Instead, Noor used her French language skills, her knowledge of Paris, her training and some good luck to stay hidden and successfully carry out her mission. At one point, she was questioned about the radio she carried but claimed it was cinema equipment and avoided discovery.

The SOE ‘circuit’ she was joining had been discovered by the Germans, though, and as she was meeting her first contacts, key members were being arrested.

Soon she was the only SOE wireless operator left in the area, constantly having to evade capture and find new places from which to transmit. After four exhausting months in which her work never faltered, Noor was betrayed.

She revealed nothing under interrogation, even when kept in solitary confinement. In September 1944 she and three other female agents were taken to Dachau Concentration Camp and executed.

Today Noor is commemorated at the CWGC Runnymede Memorial, along with over 20,000 men and women who died during the Second World War and who have no known grave.

With the help of the Girlguiding Association – the CWGF is telling the story of Noor – at our interactive exhibition at Runnymede Memorial.

Noor Inayat Khan Biography

Noor-un-Nissa Inayat Khan, also referred as Nora Inayat-Khan and Nora Baker, was a Second World War British spy of Indian descent who served as a Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent. Noor joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and was sent as an Aircraftwoman 2nd Class to undergo training as wireless operator. She was recruited to join SOE&rsquos F (France) Section and posted to the Air Ministry, Directorate of Air Intelligence. Noor eventually became the first female radio operator who was sent by the SOE to Nazi-occupied France to aid the French Resistance during Second World War. In France, Noor worked undercover relaying messages to the Allied forces and co-ordinating crucial missions until she was betrayed by a Frenchwoman, a double agent, leading to her arrest by the Gestapo (German secret police). Although she was subjected to repeated torture, Noor refused to reveal any information. She was finally executed by the Gestapo at Dachau concentration camp. She was posthumously honoured with the George Cross (GC) for her service in the SOE.

Noor Inayat Khan was born on January 1, 1914, in Moscow, Russian Empire, to Inayat Khan and Pirani Ameena Begum (born Ora Ray Baker) as the eldest of their four children.

Her father was a Sufi Master. He hailed from an Indian Muslim family and his great-great-grandfather Tipu Sultan was ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. Khan went to the West as a Northern Indian classical musician and eventually emerged as founder of the Sufi Order (presently Ināyati Order) there and taught Universal Sufism. Noor’s mother was an American from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Noor’s parents met through her mother’s half-sister and guardian Pierre Bernard, an American yogi and scholar.

Siblings of Noor included Vilayat, Hidayat and Khair-un-Nissa. Vilayat, founder of Abode of the Message, taught traditions of the East Indian Chishti Sufi sect of Sufism. Hidayat, a classical composer and conductor, served as Representative-General of the International Sufi Movement.

Her family left Russia just before the First World War started in 1914 and settled in the Bloomsbury district in London, UK. She attended nursery in Notting Hill. Her family again relocated to France in 1920. Noor took responsibility of her family after her father died in 1927.

She attended Sorbonne to study child psychology and learned music under tutelage of Nadia Boulanger at the Paris Conservatory. She commenced career in writing poetry and children's stories and regularly contributed to French radio and magazines for children. Inspired by the Jataka Tales, Noor wrote the book Twenty Jataka Tales (1939).

Her family again shifted to the UK after the German troops invaded France during Second World War.

Noor was greatly influenced by the ideals of pacifism. She and her siblings were raised following the nonviolence policy of Mahatma Gandhi. However at the outbreak of Second World War, Noor and Vilayat resolved to join the war to fight against atrocities of the Nazis. As they were against killing anyone, the siblings decided to involve themselves in the most dangerous positions, which would mean no killing.

Noor joined Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in November 1940. She was sent as an Aircraftwoman 2nd Class to undertake training as a wireless operator. In June 1941, she was assigned to a bomber training school.

In early 1943, Noor was inducted in the secret British Second World War organisation Special Operations Executive (SOE) in its F (France) Section and posted to the Air Ministry, Directorate of Air Intelligence, seconded to First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY). She went to Wanborough Manor and then to Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire and took special training as a wireless operator in occupied territory. Being adept in wireless skills and having had previous wireless telegraphy (W/T) training, Noor became the first woman who was deployed in that capacity as all other woman agents sent prior to her served as couriers.

Although Noor failed to stand out during her mock Gestapo interrogation that was part of her training program and her finishing report was also not quite impressive leading her superiors to hold mixed opinions on whether she was at all suitable for espionage and secret warfare, she impressed her superior and the intelligence officer for F Section Vera Atkins who selected her as a wireless operator for a dangerous mission in Nazi-occupied France.

Responsibilities of Noor included transmitting messages and maintaining a connection between agents in the field and the base in London. As the operators had a high risk of detection, they could not stay in one place for long, however shifting from one place to another with the heavy transmitter, which was sometimes concealed in a suitcase or in a bundle of firewood, was also a risky proposition. In case the operator was caught and searched leading to discovery of the transmitter, there would be no chance of making up a cover story. Life expectancy of operators was six weeks in 1943 and they would be considered lucky to survive two months prior to capture.

Noor, promoted as Assistant Section Officer, was flown to Northern France on June 16/17, 1943, during a night landing double Lysander operation, code name of which was Teacher/Nurse/Chaplain/Monk. She was assigned as a radio operator for the Prosper resistance network in Paris with SOE codename Madeleine and SOE callsign Nurse. She carried out her secret warfare activities in the guise of a children's nurse, Jeanne-Marie Renier, using fake papers in that name.

Starting from June 24, 1943, the Germans began to round up the Prosper network leading to its destruction and arrest of hundreds of its associates besides death of many. Although Noor, who was in radio contact with London, was offered to be flown back home, she chose to remain in France as she thought that there was no other radio operator left in Paris besides her. She was allowed to stay back and instructed only to receive signals and not to transmit.

Although Noor worked through the summer shifting from one place to another avoiding capture, she was ultimately betrayed by either Henri Déricourt or Renée Garry leading to her arrest by the Gestapo on or around October 13, 1943. She was interrogated at the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) headquarters in Paris during which time she made two unsuccessful escape attempts.

As testified by former head of the SD in Paris Hans Kieffer following the war, Noor consistently lied and did not give any information to the Gestapo. She however unwisely kept copies of all the messages she had sent as an SOE agent and although she refused to reveal any secret codes to the Germans, they gained enough information from such secret signals that enabled them to trick London in sending false messages. This resulted in unnecessary deaths of several SOE agents who were sent from London to France only to be captured and killed by the Gestapo.

A heroine of India was tortured to death amazing story of Noor Inayat Khan, princess, author, spy

Some 73 years ago, a young Indian princess was executed by the Nazis in Germany for being one heck of a spy. Her name was Noor Inayat Khan, and if you've never heard of her, you need some serious history-learning to do.


Like one of the most indomitable princesses ever.

Born in Moscow to musician father Hazrat Inayat Khan and American mother, Pirani Ameena Begum, Noor Inayat was a descendant of Tipu Sultan's uncle.

The onset of World War I in 1914 forced Noor Inayat's family out of Russia. Eventually, they moved to France. There, she grew up to become a writer of children's stories and poems, and a frequent contributed to French radio.

Noor Inayat Khan's book. Source: @jasonporath/Twiiter

But Noor Inayat's peaceful life was rudely interrupted the Second World War in 1940. As Germany barged into France, the Khan family made a run for England.


After losing her home to the German troops, Noor Inayat swore to help take down the Nazi rule. By the end of 1940, she was working with the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

As much as she loved France and wanted to save it from the Nazis, in her heart, she had India. In an interview, Noor Inayat had said that as soon as the war was over, she would pledge her life to work for India's independence .

Unfortunately, that day never came.

Noor Inayat Khan. Source: @jasonporath/Twiiter

At the WAAF, Noor Inayat being trained as a wireless operator. By 1943, she joined the F (France) Section of the Special Operations Executive, which a British World War II organisation. From here, she was sent to be trained as a special wireless operator in occupied territory.

Here, her superiors did not quite have high opinions about her. In feedback reports, Noor Inayat was called "unstable", "not overburdened with brains", "childlike", "very feminine", "pretty scared of weapons", "clumsy", and "physically unsuited for her job", among other things.

Boy, did she prove them wrong!

Vera Atkins, a British intelligence officer at the F section, admitted that Noor Inayat's commitment was unquestioned.

Here, Noor Inayat's alias was 'Nora Baker', and Atkins knew that "Nora was a natural signaller,".

"She [Noor Inayat] felt she had come to a dead end in the WAAF, and was longing to do something more active in the prosecution of the war, something that would demand more sacrifice," quotes a book named Shadow Knights: The Secret War Against Hitler.

Hence, when Major Francis Alfred Suttill's request came, Noor Inayat was Atkin's "a natural choice" to be sent as a wireless operator in the war-torn, Nazi-occupied France.

Noor Inayat Khan. Source: @jasonporath/Twiiter

[In WWI and II, a wireless operator's job basically was to "maintain a link between the circuit in the field and London". They had pass secret messages back and forth about "planned sabotage operations or about where arms were needed for resistance fighters". Hence, it is safe to say that a wireless operator was very much the nervous system of a resistance.]

As exciting as it was, the job of a wireless operator during the World War was rigged with danger and threat to life. As long as they were on the mission, the operator had to be quick on their feet, live in disguise, have quick exit routes wherever they were working, which included having aerials hung up disguised as washing lines.

Noor Inayat was sent to France with a new identity: Jeanne-Marie Renier, a professional children's nurse. But just before leaving, she began having second thoughts about the mission.

Noor Inayat was raised by her father as a pacifist and a strict Sufi Muslim, which meant she would choose violence and wouldn't lie.

"You see, Nora and I had been brought up with the policy of Gandhi's nonviolence, and at the outbreak of war we discussed what we would do," Vilayet Inayat Khan, Noor's brother, reminisced later.

In the end, Noor Inayat chose to go. Weeks after starting to work in Nazi-occupied France, a double agent sold her out to the Germans.


Noor Inayat was doing her job as an operator well, and smartly avoiding getting caught by changing her location and looks every chance she got. But all that came to an end when one of her own betrayed her, allegedly for 100,000 francs.

The manner in which she went down can be best described by these tweet of artist Jason Porath

11/ When a double agent betrayed her, she went down kicking, punching, and biting.

Despite being a lifelong pacifist.

- Porath! @SPX P23 (@jasonporath) September 13, 2017

12/ She repeatedly lied under torture.

Despite being an observant Sufi Muslim.

- Porath! @SPX P23 (@jasonporath) September 13, 2017

13/ She made two escape attempts, nimbly running along rain-slick rooftops.

Despite being a klutz.

- Porath! @SPX P23 (@jasonporath) September 13, 2017

14/ The Nazis kept her in solitary, marking her as "highly dangerous." They beat her constantly. She told them nothing.

- Porath! @SPX P23 (@jasonporath) September 13, 2017

15/ We only know of her last days because she managed to scratch messages on the bottom of bowls shared with other prisoners.

- Porath! @SPX P23 (@jasonporath) September 13, 2017

After being captured by the Nazis, Noor Inayat was transferred to Dachau concentration camp with other arrested agents. Classified as 'highly dangerous' and shackled in chains most of the time, Noor Inayat was beaten and tourtured for information.

When she didn't break, she was sentenced to death.

On the morning of September 13, 1944, Noor Inayat was executed at Dachau along with three other women. She was made to kneel on the ground, and shot through the back of her neck.

Legend has it that moments before her death, a beaten Noor Inayat had screamed 'Liberte', which means 'freedom'.

Author Shrabani Basu wrote one of the most inspirational World War II stories through Noor Inayat's life story, called Spy Princess:The Life of Noor Inayat Khan.

Back in 2102, filmmaker Ketan Mehta was planning to make a biopic on Noor Inayat Khan, featuring Katrina Kaif as the gutsy heroine.

A book on Noor Inayat Khan. Source: @jasonporath/Twiiter

Spy School

Now, this is where shit got real. Being trained as a special agent meant weapons training, map reading and navigation, escaping, radio technology, explosives, to name but a few. They also had to learn the names, code names, secret code questions, and their responses to the agents in the field.

The most important part for the radio operators was encoding and decoding messages, and how to include a first security check and then a second one, in case the German’s ever found out about the first one. Each agent had their own specific code which they used to encode their messages. They were based on poems or lines of text, and Noor chose a line from a poem she had written.

Source: Wikipedia

Agents were also trained to behave 100% like a native French person in order to prevent being discovered. This included endless details like idioms, gestures, clothing, and mannerisms. Noor was once told off for pouring the milk in her tea cup before the tea, which is the English way of doing it and, mon dieu, no French person would ever pour their milk first. These details were extremely important because shit like this could get you killed.

Over the next few months, Noor threw herself into her training and was starting to make James Bond look like a Kindergartener.

Noor Inayat Khan

Noor Inayat Khan was a British spy and Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent who worked in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, and was captured and executed at just 30 years of age. She was also the first female radio operator to work undercover in France, relaying messages to the Allied forces, co-ordinating crucial missions and saving countless lives. Betrayal by a double agent led to her captivity by the Gestapo (German secret police). Even in captivity and torture, she did not reveal a shred of information to her Nazi oppressors. Khan was a princess, a direct descendant of the Indian princely state ruler, Tipu Sultan. A firm believer in the principle of non-violence taught under Sufism (a mystical form of Islam), Khan overcame her physical shortcomings and fear of weapons to train as a spy and fight fascism. Posthumously, both Britain and France accorded several honours and awards to her.

Childhood & Early Life

Noor-un-Nissa Inayat Khan was born on 1 January 1914 in Moscow, where her father, Inayat Khan, a musician and teacher of Sufism, was performing with his group, the Royal Musicians of Hindustan. Inayat Khan belonged to a noble Indian Muslim family his mother being a descendant of the 18th century ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan. Noor’s mother was Ameena Begum (née Ora Ray Baker), an American. Noor’s parents met in San Francisco, where her father was giving a lecture on Sufism. Noor was the eldest of four children she had two brothers, Vilayat and Hidayat, and a sister, Khair-un-Nissa.

During World War I, the family moved to London, where her siblings were born in London and she attended nursery at Notting Hill. In 1920, the family relocated and settled into ‘Fazal Manzil’ in Suresnes, Paris.
Tragedy struck the Khan family in 1927, when Inayat Khan passed away while on a pilgrimage in India. With her mother incapacitated by grief, the responsibility of the household and her siblings fell on the young shoulders of Noor, who just 13 at that time.

From a young age, Noor enjoyed writing short stories and poems, or playing the veena and the harp. She pursued a course in music at École Normale de Musique de Paris and child psychology at the Sorbonne. She also wrote short stories for children’s magazines and Radio Paris. At 25 years of age, Noor published her first book of children’s stories ‘Twenty Jataka Tales’ in London.

But the peaceful pace of Noor’s life was abruptly disturbed in 1940, with the start of World War II. She lost her family home when Germany invaded France and the entire Khan clan had to escape to London.

Women’s Auxiliary Air Force

As a Sufi and a follower of Gandhi, Noor was a complete believer in non-violence and a staunch supporter of the Indian Independence efforts against British colonial rule. But her determination to fight fascism led her to join the Allied forces by volunteering for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in November 1940.

At WAAF, Noor was sent for wireless operator training and then onto bomber training school. Though she was making swift progress in the wireless operator training, Noor felt that she needed to contribute to the war efforts in an active manner, which led her to seek a transfer elsewhere within the British forces.

Image Source:

Special Operations Executive

In 1942, Noor was recruited by the SOE (Special Operations Executive – an underground espionage and sabotage task-force setup by Britain’s then Prime Minister Winston Churchill) At that time, SOE’s F (France) section was facing a severe shortage of agents with the exact skill-set combination of fluent French and accurate wireless operator abilities. The job of an SOE-F section agent was also regarded as highly dangerous, with the risk of capture by the Gestapo within the first six weeks quite imminent. Noor Inayat Khan fit the required bill almost perfectly, and was posted to various divisions for further training, including the Air Ministry and FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry). For special training as a wireless operator in enemy territory, she was sent first to Wanborough Manor in Surrey, then to Aylesbury and finally to Beaulieu, where she trained with many other agents.

Her slight build and mild manners were not suitable for the immensely tough SOE training. During mock-Gestapo interrogation sessions at SOE, Noor would often freeze up or give away personal information. Her trainers also noted that she often left codebooks out in the open and her ‘fist’ (style of typing keys for Morse code) was quite heavy. In their post-training reports, the trainers mentioned that Khan was clumsy, unsuitable for physical feats and scared of weapons. Her strong spiritual beliefs led her superiors to believe that she would not be able to make quick ruthless decisions, as often required in espionage and sabotage work.

After receiving this negative feedback, Khan diligently worked to improve her physical fitness, her Morse code skills and also overcame her fear of weapons. Very soon, she was ready for her espionage role and chosen to be sent to Paris as a secret wireless radio operator. Her mission would be very perilous, since she would be the crucial connection between London and the SOE-F section networks in occupied-France. She would have to send and receive messages about planned sabotage operations and enemy movements, without being discovered by the moving detection vans of the Gestapo.

Khan was flown to occupied-France in June 1943, and became the first female radio operator to achieve this distinction. She posed as a children’s nurse, and was given the code name ‘Madeleine’.

But the SOE’s mission in Paris was compromised right from the beginning and within a week of Noor’s arrival, the Gestapo arrested almost all the SOE operators in Paris. Noor somehow managed to outwit and escape the Gestapo and thereafter, she was the only SOE undercover radio operator left in Paris. Her superiors in London offered to extract her, but she refused stating that she would carry out her mission by rebuilding the network on her own. Her work over the next few months was extraordinarily brave.

In a bid to evade the Gestapo, Khan was always on the move, never staying in one place for a long time. She frequently changed her looks, dyed her hair and lodged with her pre-war friends in Paris to secretly transmit messages to London from her bulky B2 radio set. By single-handedly performing the tasks of six radio operators, Khan enabled the safe delivery of crucial packages and aided in the escape of many Allied forces’ members.

Capture & Imprisonment

The exact cause of Khan’s capture is unclear, but from post-war interrogations of Gestapo officers, it is believed that a suspected double agent, Henri Déricourt, or Renée Garry, the sister of an SOE-F network leader betrayed Khan. When the Gestapo came for her in October 1943, Khan fought tooth and nail with her captors, and six hefty men were needed to arrest her.

A few hours after her capture, Khan attempted to escape from her confinement in Paris, but her attempt was foiled. Where she had folded like a pack of cards during her SOE training interrogation sessions, Khan held her own and did not reveal a single piece of true information when grilled by the Gestapo.

Just a few weeks later, in November, Khan made a second unsuccessful attempt to escape from her Paris prison. On refusing to sign a declaration that she would not make any further attempts to escape, Khan was taken to Germany as a ‘Night and Fog’ (Disappearance without Trace) prisoner, to be placed in solitary confinement, beaten and fed the smallest of rations. She was kept shackled at her hands and feet for ten months. While Khan steadfastly refused to give up any information to her captors, her spirit was broken and she was often heard sobbing through the night.

Image Source:

On 13 September 1944, Khan along with three other fellow agents was transferred to the infamous Dachau concentration camp. While the others were executed immediately upon arrival, Khan was reportedly brutally beaten and tortured yet again, before being executed via a shot in the head. Her last recorded word was ‘Liberté’ (freedom).

Honours & Awards

In October 1946, Noor Inayat Khan’s name was ‘Mentioned in Despatches’. Her commemoration on the FANY memorial in St. Paul’s Church, London made Khan the first Muslim or Asian woman to be accorded such an honour.

In 1949, the British government posthumously honoured Khan with the ‘George Cross’ and the French government awarded her a ‘Croix de Guerre’. She is also mentioned on an SOE memorial plaque at Dachau.

Additionally, a primary school and a square were named after Khan’s SOE codename ‘Madeleine’ in Suresnes, France.

In November 2012, a bronze bust of Khan was unveiled at Gordon Square Gardens in London. In 2014, the British Royal Mail issued a commemorative stamp in honour of Noor Inayat Khan. In February 2019, with the announcement of Khan’s wartime home in London being adorned with a ‘Blue Plaque’, Khan became the first Indian-origin woman to be accorded this rare honour.

Spy Princess — The Story of Noor Inayat Khan

“One of the most inspirational stories of World War II.” — The Daily Mail NOOR INAYAT KHAN was the daughter of a Sufi Indian father and an American mother, and she grew up in Paris and London. As a British agent under the codename MADELEINE, she became the first female radio operator to be sent from the UK into occupied France to aid the French Resistance during World War II. She was captured after being betrayed, and executed at Dachau, where her last word was Liberté! She was posthumously awarded the George Cross, the highest civilian decoration in the United Kingdom, and there is now a statue of her in central London.

BOOKS AVAILABLE! We are offering signed and inscribed copies of the best-selling historical thriller Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu in conjunction with this program. Price: $18 + shipping. REGISTRATION REQUIRED. For more information and to register visit our website.

SHRABANI BASU is a journalist and best-selling author. Her books include The Mystery of the Parsee Lawyer: Arthur Conan Doyle, George Edalji and the Case of the Foreigner in the English Village, For King and Another Country: Indian Soldiers on the Western Front 1914-18, Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant (now a major motion picture), SPY PRINCESS: THE LIFE OF NOOR INAYAT KHAN, and Curry: The Story of the Nation’s Favourite Dish. She is the founder and chair of the NOOR INAYAT KHAN Memorial Trust which campaigned for a memorial for the World War II heroine in London. It was unveiled by Princess Anne in 2012.

SHAIKH-AL-MASHAIK MAHMOOD KHAN YOUSKINE is the cousin of NOOR INAYAT KHAN. Born in 1927, he is the only member of the family still alive who personally knew Noor. His father was the younger brother of Noor’s father, Hazrat Inayat Khan, and his mother was Dutch. Noor was a frequent visitor to their house in The Hague, Netherlands. She was thirteen years older than him and was very fond of her young cousin. Mahmood read History at Leyden University, specializing in musicology and the history of ideas. Later, he joined the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, working in the directorate of Development Cooperation. He was knighted in the Netherlands as Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau.

DR. SHULAMIT REINHERZ, who will moderate, was born in Amsterdam and grew up in the United States with long stays in Israel. She earned her B.A. from Barnard College and her Ph.D. from Brandeis University, both in sociology. She is the author of thirteen books, including American Jewish Women and the Zionist Enterprise, Observing the Observer, and One Hundred Years of Kibbutz Life. Dr. Reinherz is a member of an Israeli research team studying differences in Covid-19 responses on kibbutzim, moshavim and community settlements. She is completing In Hiding: A Memoir in Four Hands, a book about her father’s Holocaust experience. In 2017, she retired from Brandeis and became Professor Emerita.

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Resistance Fighter Noor Inayat Khan Honoured With Plaque in Central London

Female spy, Noor Inayat Khan, born in Moscow to Indian and US parents, made history in WWII when she became the first Muslim woman to be deployed behind enemy lines in Paris, France in 1943.

Today she is making history once more as a blue plaque is unveiled in her honour in Taviton Street in Bloomsbury, London.

Her biographer, Shrabani Basu, unveiled the plaque, one of 950 English Heritage commemorative blue plaques dotted about the capital, and the first of Indian origin of 133 women who are celebrated in this way in the city.

Hon. Assistant Section Officer Noor Inayat Khan (code name Madeleine), George Cross, MiD, Croix de Guerre avec Etoile de Vermeil. Noor Inayat Khan served as a wireless operator with F Section, Special Operations Executive.

‘When Noor Inayat Khan left this house on her last mission,’ said Basu, ‘she would never have dreamed that one day she would become a symbol of bravery. She was an unlikely spy.’

Her story is an interesting one. She was born on New Year’s Day, 1914, in Moscow, Russia. Her father was an Indian Muslim preacher, her mother an American citizen. They moved to London and then on to Paris when she was six, where she and her brother Vilayat went to school.

Noor Inayat Khan (L) and her family moved to the UK in 1914. Pic: Shrabani Basu

Noor Inayat Khan worked in Paris, she held a degree in child psychology and wrote stories for children, up until the Nazi invasion in 1939 when she and her brother were able to make their escape back to London.

In November 1940 she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force where she trained as a radio operator. She later applied for a commission at bomber command.

As the war in Europe wore on so the British became more and more adept at running and supporting resistance cells across France. Churchill’s SOE, the Special Operations Executive, singled Khan out for a special mission to Paris. She was fluent in the language and knew the city well.

Wanborough Manor. John Salmon – CC BY-SA 2.0

On June 16 th , 1943 she was flown in a Lysander to a rendezvous North of Paris. At the time, the life expectancy of a radio operator, behind enemy lines, was just six weeks. Her main role was to aid downed Allied airmen escape to Britain and send and receive messages and instructions to support the efforts of the anti-Nazi resistance.

She was assigned the role of radio operator for the Prosper network that had been tasked with ‘setting Europe ablaze’.

Codenamed ‘Madeleine,’ she ran a network of spies single handed for three months before they were betrayed, and many were rounded up and arrested.

For the rest of the summer Khan was on the run, moving from location to location attempting to get messages back to London.

Inayat Inayat Khan’s memorial plaque at the Dachau Memorial Hall

Radio equipment was disguised as a suitcase and hidden in log stores with antennae strung with washing to hide it in plain sight. Once discovered by the Nazi secret police however, there was no way back, a radio operator played a high stakes game of cat-and-mouse with the enemy.

Eventually she was given away by a French woman, allegedly either a love rival of a comrade in arms or a double-agent and was arrested by the Gestapo on October 13 th , 1943.

Khan made an escape attempt on the 25 th November along with fellow prisoners John Renshaw Starr and Leon Faye but was rapidly recaptured when their absence was discovered during an air raid.

Imprisoned, tortured, and questioned for ten months, Khan refused to divulge any information, including her real name. Eventually, on September 13 th , 1944, she was executed at the notorious Dachau concentration camp.

Memorial bust of Noor Inayat Khan in Gordon Square Gardens, London. Henk van der Wal – CC BY-SA 3.0

Noor Inayat Khan, a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, the 18 th Century ‘Tiger of Mysore’ who defended his Kingdom to the death against the British, was honoured earlier in the year when a bronze bust was unveiled close to her London home.

‘As a Sufi she believed in non-violence and religious harmony,’ said Basu, who was tasked with unveiling the blue plaque, ‘Yet when her adopted country needed her, she unhesitatingly gave her life in the fight against Fascism.’

In 1949 Khan was posthumously awarded the French Croix de Guerre and the British George Cross.

About the Show

In August 1943, the last surviving clandestine radio operator in Paris desperately signaled London for additional weapons and explosives for the French underground. She knew her time was limited. Within a month, she too would be taken. "Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story" is the story of one woman’s extraordinary courage, tested in the crucible of Nazi-occupied Paris.

With an American mother and Indian Muslim father, Noor was an extremely unusual British agent, and her life spent growing up in a Sufi center of learning in Paris seemed an unlikely preparation for the dangerous work to come. Yet it was in this place of universal peace and contemplation that her remarkable courage was forged.

In 1940, when the Nazis invaded of France, Noor fled Paris with her family to England, where she trained as a wireless operator in Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. In early 1943, she was recruited as a covert operative, into Winston Churchill's Special Operations Executive (S.O.E). Churchill’s orders were to “Set Europe ablaze” through sabotage of railroads and factories, and support of the French underground’s direct attacks on Nazi units in preparation for the D-Day invasions.

After the betrayal and arrest of her entire network, Noor became the only surviving radio operator linking the British to the French Resistance in Paris, coordinating the air-drop of weapons, explosives and agents, and supporting the rescue of downed allied fliers.

The life expectancy of a radio operator in Paris was only six weeks before the Nazi radio-hunting trucks would track them down. But Noor survived four months before she was finally betrayed by French a collaborator. She resisted a brutal interrogation by the Gestapo, escaping twice only to be recaptured. For her intransigence, Noor was sent to Germany and was executed at Dachau.

50. She Was One Of A Kind

Noor was the only woman of Indian origin in the SOE. Her bravery and selflessness set her apart from most of her peers while she was alive. Today she remains the first, and so far the only, Indian-Muslim woman to have a statue in a public space in England and to have her face on a British stamp.


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