Noor Inayat Khan

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The authors of this article are

Noor Inayat Khan
Noor Inayat Khan's pistol

i) Indian warrior princess Noor Inayat Khan becomes a sensation in Britain

Kounteya Sinha,TNN | Apr 4, 2014, The Times of India

ii) Noor Inayat Khan

Divya Talwar, BBC Asian Network, Jan 01 2011 BBC Asian Network

iii) Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story

Claim to fame

The year 2014 saw a massive increase in interest in the life story of the Indian princess.

Noor Inayat Khan — an Indian princess, later became Winston Churchill's most daring spy

Noor was part of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) — a British secret service set up to promote subversive warfare in enemy occupied territory.

Early life and family

Noor Inayat Khan was the daughter of a famous Sufi teacher from Gujrat, India, Hazrat Inayat Khan, and his American wife, Ora Ray Baker. After Noor’s birth in Moscow in 1914, the family moved first to England and then to Paris, where she was raised.

She was a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century Muslim "Tiger of Mysore" who refused to submit to British rule and was killed in battle in 1799.

She grew up in Paris guided by her father’s philosophy of respect for different faiths, even as nationalism and ethnic chauvinism was on the rise across Europe.

She was possessed of great sensitivity and a strong nurturing instinct. After her father’s death, her mother withdrew in seclusion, devastated by loss. Noor, then thirteen, became head of their large household, including two other siblings and many relatives.

Early career

She began a career as a children's writer A delicate, thoughtful girl, who loved children, she studied child psychology and became an author of children's books. But when war broke out in 1939, Noor and one of her brothers, Vilayat, decided they had to travel to London, dedicating themselves against what they saw as the evil of Nazi Germany.

World War II

Her life in France soon came to an end. Forced to flee her Paris home when the Germans invaded, this quiet, shy young woman became an unlikely hero, volunteering to return to France with a secret British effort to nurture and assist the French Resistance movement. Working as a radio operator, in disguise, she was for a time in 1943 the only surviving member of her group. Changing her residence and transmission points frequently, she outsmarted the Nazi authorities several times.

Her fluent French, quiet dedication and training in radio transmitting were quickly spotted by SOE officers.

Women's Auxiliary Air Force

Noor fled from Paris to Britain after the occupation of France in 1940. She served with the WAAFs (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) under the name of Nora Baker until February 1943, when she applied to join, as a covert agent, Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE). This organization sought to undermine the Axis powers in occupied Europe through espionage and stealth attacks. From Paris, Noor Inayat Khan secretly transmitted critical information back to Britain.

In the next six months she was often the only link between the U.K. and the French Resistance.


She joined Winston Churchill's sabotage force, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and became the first female radio operator sent into France in1943, with the famous instruction to "set Europe ablaze".

The role was so dangerous that she arrived in Paris with a life expectancy of just six weeks.

Noor was the first female wireless operator sent into France by the SOE. Code named Madeleine, Noor was dropped into occupied France on Churchill's order with the instruction to set Europe ablaze. She landed in France in June 1943 and worked for a resistance network in Paris, under the code name Madeleine.

Her Morse code transmissions back to England s helped save many innocent people from the Germans, and laid the foundations of the secret communications that would eventually contribute to the success of the D-Day invasion.

She survived a wave of arrests among her SOE contacts but declined a chance to return to Britain. She was betrayed and captured by the Gestapo (Nazi political police) in October 1943, but resisted interrogation and gave no information away.

After two failed escape attempts from prison, Noor was sent to Dachau concentration camp, where she was executed on 13 September 1944. In 1949, Noor was posthumously awarded the George Cross, which is the non-combatant equivalent of the Victoria Cross — the highest honour a civilian can receive in wartime.

Gestapo arrests

Noor became the last essential link with London after mass arrests by the Gestapo had destroyed the SOE's spy network in Paris.

As her spy circuit collapsed, her commanders urged her to return, but she refused to abandon what had become the principal and most dangerous post in France because she did not want to leave her French comrades without communications.

For three months, she single-handedly ran a cell of spies across Paris,frequently changing her appearance and alias until she was eventually captured.

Winston Churchill

Despite having a full description of her and deploying considerable forces in their effort to break the last remaining link with London, it was only her betrayal by a French woman that led to Noor's capture by the Gestapo.

Noor's decision to stay in Paris to fight Nazism was a decision that cost her her life.

She was pursued by the Gestapo and finally betrayed by French collaborators. The Nazis arrested her and imprisoner her in Paris, where she fought back against her captors and escaped twice. Finally, she was sent to the infamous Dachau concentration camp in Germany. There she also refused to cooperate, never revealed other agents’ names, and remained true to her belief. Noor Khan was executed shortly before the end of WWII.

Sadly, Noor Khan was eventually betrayed by a double agent for the Gestapo. After two attempts to escape prison in Paris, she was finally sent to the infamous Dachau prison camp in Germany. There, she refused to give any information, and provided comfort to other prisoners, until she was murdered by the Nazis. Defiant to the end, the last word she shouted before her execution was Liberté! Freedom.

Despite carrying a passport of an imperial subject she had no innate loyalty to Britain.

Winston Churchill sent SOE agents to Francein 1943 with the instruction to "set Europe ablaze"


Britain's Asian spy Noor Inayat Khan was shot by the Nazis in 1944 after being betrayed

"Liberte!" - That was the last word spoken bythe heroine of Churchill's elite spy network before being executed by her Nazicaptors.

On 13 September 1944, the glamorous British agent, code named "Madeline," was shot dead at Dachau concentration camp.

Despite being tortured by the Gestapo during 10 months of imprisonment, shehad revealed nothing of use to her interrogators.

Noor Inayat Khan, died aged just 30, but her story has gone down in history.

“She was an incredibly brave woman and I think it isimportant that her bravery is permanently recognised in this country”: Shrabani Basu Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust

Her pistol

It is small enough to disappear in the palm of your hand but packs a real punch when fired. The personal pocket pistol of Britain's revered spy princess, is on public display at the Imperial War Museum North (Manchester).

Her pistol has now become a major draw at the IWMN. Charlotte Czyzyk from the museum told The Times of India that the Webley M1907 pocket pistol belonging to Noor has been a major draw ever since it has been displayed.


It is rare — Noor was awarded military honours by France and Britain — the Croix De Guerre and the George Cross, an expert said.

"She was a real war hero. It was quite unusual for women to do dangerous missions. But Noor went on a dangerous mission fearlessly for her love for Britain. The gun is important as it reminds us of the war that was secret," Charlotte Czyzyk said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron recently said, "It is impossible not to be moved deeply by Noor Inayat Khan's bravery in the face of capture, interrogation, and harsh imprisonment, and by her cruel death met with indomitable courage. The award of the George Cross, our highest civilian decoration, gave recognition to her heroism."

The Royal Mail celebrated a selection of remarkable individuals from the realms of sport, design, economics, heroism and the arts with the "Remarkable Lives" stamp issue.

The set, commemorates individuals whose centenaries of birth fall in 2014 and who have all made a major contribution to British society. One of the stamps is on Noor.

Highest sacrifice

Noor's bravery has long been recognised in France, where there are twomemorials and a ceremony held each year to mark her death.

However, in Britain, although Noor was posthumously awarded the George Crossin 1949, her courage has since been allowed to fade in history.

That changed with the launch of a campaign to raise £100,000 toinstall a bronze bust of her in London, close to her former home.

It would be the first memorial in Britain to either a Muslim or an Asian woman.

Shrabani Basu, who spent eight years researching Noor's history in official archives and family records, said: "I feel it is very important that whatshe did should not be allowed to fade from memory.

Noor died for this country. She made the highest sacrifice. She didn'tneed to do it. She felt it was a crime to stand back.

She was an incredibly brave woman and I think it is important that herbravery is permanently recognised in this country.

The project, which has the backing of 34 MPs and prominent British Asians,including human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti and film director GurinderChadha, is being led by Noor's biographer, Shrabani Basu who wrote The SpyPrincess in 2006.

Around £25,000 of the cost of the bust has been raised and permissiongranted to install the sculpture on land owned by the University of London inGordon Square, close to the Bloomsbury house where Noor lived as a child in1914, and where she returned while training for the SOE during World War II.

Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story : a film

Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story is a docudrama film presented by Unity Productions Foundation. Executive Producers: Alex Kronemer, Michael Wolfe Director: Rob Gardner

The World Premiere of Enemy of the Reich occurred on February 15th, 2014 at the prestigious Warner Theater in Washington, DC. It was a ‘sold out’ event attended by a full house of over 1400 people.

Biography by Shrabani Basu

Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan

By Shrabani Basu

Sutton Publishing. Available with Liberty Books, Park Towers, Clifton, Karachi

Tel: 021-5832525 (Ext: 111) Website:

ISBN 0-7509-3965-6

234pp. Rs1,500

Reviewed by Asif Farrukhi

REVIEWS: The monkeys have crossed the bridge, Dawn June 11, 2006

HERS was no obscure life but there is something about the very name of Noor Inayat Khan and the little-known circumstances which invite curiosity. An independent young woman from the lineage of Tipu Sultan, the daughter of a Sufi practitioner and master born in Moscow and living in Paris of indeterminate Indian-British-French origin and citizenship, the author of books for children, radio operator-cum-British secret agent in the dangerous war against the Gestapo, a prisoner of the Nazis and finally yet another nameless victim of the crematorium at the notorious Dachau, a war heroine whose brave, adventurous life and gruesome death needs to be pieced together — is somebody making up all this?

Too incredulous to be fiction, this is the real life story of Noor Inayat Khan, a remarkable blend of diverse influences and sources, who managed to fill her brief life with courage. For this reason, her biography at places seems to turn into an old English spy novel but not once does it cease to amaze nor does the reader feel disinterested.

Not even half as well-known as she deserves to be, this amazing woman remains an enigma, even when you have closed the last pages of her well-documented new biography. Was she for real? Who was she anyway? What inspired and motivated her to lead such an extraordinary life? Her handling of pain and conflict, imprisonment and torture and then the inevitable finality of her young death make it apparent that hers was no ordinary spirit.

Reading her biography, it feels like one is going around in circles without really being able to know what she was actually like. Still, whatever little we are able to put together from the pages of the book is fascinating enough.

It was many years ago in a small bookstore in Sri Lanka, the kind which caters to the idle and mildly bored tourists on the beach front that I picked up a small volume of Jataka Tales which promised to be an easy read and an introduction to this snake-swallowing-its-own-tail kind of stories full of wisdom. The author’s name was spelled out as Noor Inayat Khan but almost no details were offered. Making a mental note of the name, whatever little I was able to gather from different places seemed to be made up of stuff that other books are made of. So the real tale was her life. The real value of Shrabani Basu’s recent biographical study is that it summarises, in a readable manner, all that is known about this enigmatic personality and creates awareness about the gaps which are still open to conjecture.

The very substance of her life makes it open for wild speculation. There is a list of what she was not and yet made out to be just that, as Basu points out in the introduction: “She has been said to have been recruited while on a tiger hunt in India. Her father, an Indian Sufi mystic, is said to have been close to Rasputin and was invited by him to Russia to give spiritual advice to Tsar Nicholas II. She is said to have been born in Kremlin. None of this is true, though much of it has been repeated in many seminal books on the Special Operations Executives (SOE).”

Yet, any of this could have happened or almost did, because such was Noor’s enigma. Basu is on firmer ground in explaining what Noor was not: “Noor was an unlikely spy. She was no Mata Hari. Instead she was a dreamy, beautiful and gentle, writer of children’s stories. She was not a crack shot, not endowed with great physical skills and a far cry from any spy novel prototype.” Yet it was for her courage and fortitude that she won top civilian honours from France and Britain, including the George Cross.

In spite of all the de-mythologising, Basu also makes it apparent that she herself was fascinated by this mysterious woman, calling her “a natural attraction”, in spite of being the subject of many questions: “How did a Muslim woman from a conservative spiritual family go on to become a secret agent, working undercover in one of the most dangerous areas during the war?”

Noor was the eldest daughter of an American mother who converted to Islam and married Inayat Khan, a Sufi who also played musical instruments at various places in Europe. The parents and the children, Noor’s siblings, appear to be a close-knit family and even during imprisonment at the hands of the Nazis, we learn of her sadness at not being able to send the usual birthday poems to her loved ones. Did the strength she displays during her final days, derive from her father’s Sufi background? This is another conjecture. We do not know much of her interest and possible initiation into these matters. Basu does not throw much light on her father who remains shrouded in mystery.

Her book on the Jataka tales is also evidence of unusual interest as this is not something in which somebody with her background is likely to indulge in. The Jataka tales are not everybody’s cup of tea and she is probably the first Indian Muslim who was interested in retelling these tales, a precursor of Intizar Hussain, the arch-fabulist of modern Urdu literature.

The writing of this book calls for a bare mention in Basu’s work and we learn of it when British spy trainers get to read a copy while initiating Noor into the spy code. One of them even thinks that these tales will make her an invaluable coder. “The monkeys have crossed the bridge,” she is told, referring to one of the most beautiful tales in the book. The phrase implies a supreme sacrifice on the part of one of the monkeys who made himself a part of the bridge so that the others could cross over. Although her life was no Jataka tale, this is ultimately what Noor did with her life.

The end came too soon, and too painfully. Her brother is quoted as thinking that had she lived, she would have joined India’s freedom struggle. She left behind her marvellous legacy and many unfulfilled possibilities. Basu’s book is a tribute to the brave spirit and is a delightful read.

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