A forgotten hero - Noor Inayat Khan, the Indian princess who fought the Nazis

Other | Wednesday 17th January 2018 | Gassy

Noor Inayat Khan was born to a great Sufi Indian Leader, Hazrat Inayat Khan and an American Mother Ora Ray Baker. Her childhood and teenage years were filled with Sufism, a branch of the Muslim religion, sometimes defined as 'Islamic mysticism'.

Noor and her mother 

Raised in Britain and France and a direct descendant of Indian Royalty, Noor Inayat Khan was always destined for great things. 

When World War II started Noor decided to take a stand against the Nazi regime by joining the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce (also known as the WAAF) in 1940. But she found her job lacking as she wanted to do more for the world. This led to Noor joining Winston Churchill's secret Special Operation Executive (SOE) in France in 1943. From their Noor trained as a wireless operator and learnt the distinct art of wireless telegraphy. A system that also transmitted telegraphic coded messages via radio waves at the time. 

From here, Noor's career as a spy started. She received an undercover mission by Vera Atkins, an intelligence officer for the SOE French Unit. Atkins firmly believed in Noor's potential and alongside her wireless operator training, Noor was also taking undercover agent training, which she did not complete as Atkins believed she ready enough to take on a greater role in the war.

Noor's first mission was under the spy name Jeanne Marie Renier, a children’s nurse. Her SOE colleagues knew her as Madeleine. As a great wireless telegrapher and a fluent French speaker, she quickly started to be used as a spy and regularly sent codes from Paris to London in the resistance network Prosper.

Despite suspicions that the network was infiltrated by a double agent working for Nazis, Noor refused to return to Britain. As her team was gradually captured Noor continued to send intercepted radio messages back to the UK. 

Eventually, Noor was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944. She was beaten, tortured and starved for the next 10 months but Noor refused to reveal any of her undercover work to the Gestapo. 

In September 1944 she was executed alongside three other SOE agents at the age of 30. Noor's courage and resilience has been described as "inspiring" by authour and journalist Shrabani Basu. She added, "Two and a half million Indians volunteered for the war effort and it was the largest single volunteer army. I think we must not forget their contribution. Noor was part of this."

Noor's bravery to die for freedom until her last breath can never be forgotten. As well as her Muslim values and morals that spurred her into action in the first place. The spy's life was honoured 5 years after her death with The George Cross in 1949, which is the highest award given to the greatest acts heroism and courage. 

A film was also made in her honour, check it out below: