Noor Inayat Khan, Poet and Spy

Noor Inayat Khan, 1943

Noor Inayat Khan, 1943 (source)

Noor Inayat Khan, born January 2, 1914, was an Allied SOE agent during World War II. The SEO, Special Operations Executive, was a British organization which was formed to help local resistance movements in occupied Europe through reconnaissance, espionage and sabotage. Noor was sent into France as a radio operator where she was eventually betrayed, arrested, imprisoned, and eventually executed at Dachua concentration camp on Sept 13, 1944. Posthumously, she was awarded the British George Cross and the French Croix de Guerre with Gold Star.

Noor was born in Moscow to a prestigious Indian Muslim family. Her father was a descendant of the 18th century ruling family of the Kingdom of Mysore in southern India, and was a musician and teacher of Sufism. Her mother was an American and a sister of the yogi and scholar Pierre Bernard. They moved to London at the beginning of WWI and in 1920 to France where Noor was educated at the Sorbonne and the Paris Conservatory. After studying child psychology, Noor began writing poetry and children’s stories and contributed regularly to magazines. She published a book of these stories as “Twenty Jataka Tales” in 1939. She also composed music for the harp and piano.

After the occupation of France, the family fled to England in June of 1940. Although deeply affected by her father’s pacifist teachings, Noor wanted to help in the war effort. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force where she was trained as a radio operator and later recruited for the SOE. Her superiors had their doubts about sending her behind enemy lines, but her fluency in French made her an excellent candidate and she flew to France in June 1943.

Even after many in her network were arrested Noor, code named Madeleine, refused to leave and moved frequently to avoid detection. Her capture in October of 1943 came after betrayal by a fellow SOE agent. After several escape attempts, she was classified as “highly dangerous” and sent to Germany where she was kept in solitary confinement before being sent to Dachau and executed. A bronze bust of Noor Inayat Khan was unveiled by HRH The Princess Royal on November 8, 2010 in Gordon Square Gardens, London.

Find out what else happened on January 2 in Women’s History.

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