Noor Inayat Khan- a female Indian spy who fought the Nazis
Firing gunshots, muffling shackles, and indiscriminate cries of terrified people, Germany was becoming the hotspot of what the world will remember as the most dreadful holocaust of history. Millions of Jews were held hostage inside concentrated camps, experimented on, and left to die without the warmth of their loved ones. Almost six million of those were murdered. Amid all this, a name came to light from the royalty of India. A far-fetched country that barely even took part in the war itself.
Noor Inayat Khan, a descendent of Tipu Sultan was getting ready to fight against the fascism of the 1940s. Secret conspiracies and betrayal from one of her own led to her arrest and execution. Her silent battle against the Nazis earned her the Blue Plaque by the British making Noor the first Indian-origin woman to be honored with the title. This is her story.
Captured by the Gestapo and executed in 1944, Noor Inayat Khan was an Indian spy princess who fought bravely against the Nazi regime.
Noor Inayat Khan was born in 1914 in Moscow. Her father, Inayat Khan, came from a family of Indian Muslims and her great-great-great-great-grandfather Tipu Sultan died in 1799 fighting against the East India Company. Her father was a musician and a teacher of Sufism. In the wake of the first World War, her family left Russia for London. In 1920, the family once again moved to France and settled in Paris.
After her father died in 1927, the then 13-year-old Noor took on the responsibility for her mother and her younger siblings. She made her career writing children stories like the Twenty Jataka Tales which she wrote on the reincarnation of Buddha. Noor was a firm believer of non-violence and saw her idol in Mahatma Gandhi. Her principles of life include the universality of religions, fighting against fascism, and occupation. This was one of the reasons why Noor chose to die rather than betraying the trust of the Britishers.
When the Nazis captured France in 1940, Noor’s family moved back to Britain. Immediately after her arrival, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, the female auxiliary for the UK’s Royal Air Force, as a wireless operator. Though she was an Indian Muslim but loved a Jew man and that’s why felt it necessary to do something against the Nazi regime. Before she was recruited by the British as a spy, she made it clear that once the war was over she will support India over Britain.
In 1943, Noor was recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a secret British organization that sent spies to help local resistance movements in Nazi-occupied Europe. For the same, she was sent to Buckinghamshire, for special training as a wireless operator making her the first woman to ever be sent in that capacity.
Noor on Warfield
During her training, though many of her head officers did commend her as not reliable for the job, however, her sheer will motivated them to believe in her capabilities. Being physically small in structure, she received poor in athletics. Overall, when the emergency arrived, Noor wasn’t ready for the mission. Yet, desperate time calls desperate action and due to Noor’s experience as a wireless operator, she was recruited for the mission.
Noor’s mission was especially dangerous because her job included setting a link between the circuit in the field and London and sending/ receiving messages about planned sabotage operations. For transferring the messages (coded), she had only 20 minutes- a time in which it is impossible to get a reply. If the duration lasts more than the threshold time, signals could be picked up by the enemy, and detection vans would trace the source of these suspect signals. And such agents were not provided with any cover story. During World War 2, the normal life expectancy of the operator was just six weeks.
Before picking up the task, the authorities did provide Noor a choice for taking the Mission.
“You know that if you have any doubts, it is not too late to turn back … If you don’t feel you’re the type – if for any reason whatever you don’t want to go you only have to tell me now. I’ll arrange everything so that you have no embarrassment. You will be transferred to another branch of the service with no adverse mark on your file. We have every respect for the man or woman who admits frankly to not feeling up to it.”
Noor was adamant to go but she had a request. She asked to tell her mother only half the truth that she was going abroad, but to Africa, and she had found maintaining the deception cruel. Thus in case, she goes missing, the news should be broken to her mother only if it was beyond any doubt that she was dead. Her request was accepted and now Noor Inayat Khan was ready to go.
In June 1943, Noor was sent to France under the code name “Madeleine” and took up a new life as a children’s nurse, “Jeanne-Marie Renier”, using fake papers. She first arrived at Le Mans and from there traveled to Paris. Here, Noor worked at the French resistance network “Prosper”. She was the first woman wireless operator to be deployed by the UK.
Captivity and Imprisonment
Within few days of her deployment, all the high-ranking agents were captured by the Nazis leaving Noor the only operator. She was advised to leave and offered to be flown home, however she chose to stay and continue her mission regardless of what would happen.
But as fate awaits for her, Noor was betrayed by one of her colleagues. She was captured by the Gestapo and imprisoned for few months in Germany before being executed. During her imprisonment, she attempted to escape twice but failed. The former head of SD in Paris testified that Noor didn’t give a single piece of information to Gestapo and consistently lied.
Even her interrogators admired her courage, bravery, and kindness. They said that she never regretted any of this and was content to serve her country. For almost ten months, Noor was kept imprisoned by being shackled at her hands and feet. She was soon transferred to Dachau concentration camp near Munich along with three other prisoners. Here she was shot alongside the three other SOE agents.
In 1949 Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross, UK’s highest civilian award, and was also awarded a French Croix de Guerre with a silver star. She was awarded by Britain with the Blue Plaque making her the first Indian-origin woman to be honored with the title.