The Indian Spy Princess Who Gave The Gestapo Hell

The Indian Spy Princess Who Gave The Gestapo Hell

When you hear the words ‘Indian spy princess’, you know it’s going to be a good story. Noor Inayat Khan, a fifth generation descendant of the Tipu Sultan, worked as a British spy during WWII and took on the Gestapo fearlessly. In 1994, her last words in front of a prison camp firing squad rang louder than the following shots, “Liberte”.

This royal war hero was not afraid to get her hands dirty and whilst serving in a special British intelligence unit she brought her skills in bomb-making, sabotage and secret communications to the Paris streets. Although her memory goes down as a fierce warrior, celebrated annually for her war efforts in England and France, Noor came from a gentle upbringing. She was an author of children’s books, a talented musician with the harp and veena , and a student of medicine.

The Beginning Of The Unlikely Martyr

Noor was born to an Indian father, a well-known Sufi Muslim teacher due to his royal heritage and frequent diatribes extolling the virtues of pacifism. Her mother was an American from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mrs. Khan gave birth to Noor in 1914 Moscow. Despite being born in Russia Noor spent her childhood in England, before moving to France.

To Noor the year 1939 meant the publishing of her French translation of the Twenty Jataka Tales (a collection of traditional Indian children’s stories) for Le Figaro, training and serving as a nurse for The French Red Cross, and eventually fleeing France with her mother and sister just before the French surrender.

In the words of Shrabani Basu, the chair of the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust and biographer of Noor’s tale, Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan, Noor, “couldn’t bear to see an occupied country”. Basu continues to add Noor’s “sole aim was to volunteer for the war effort, and help her adopted country, France, win back its freedom. And to fight fascism.”

From Tame To Tigress

Just after Noor got to safety in England she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in 1940 as a wireless operator. Her outright tenacity and bilingual skills resulted in her promotion to the elite Special Operations Executive (SOE) in 1942 to work in Paris as a radio operator. According to England’s national archives Noor appears to be the first female wireless operator to have been stationed in Nazi-controlled France.

This definitely had to do with the fact the radio operators had one of the lowest life expectancies in Nazi-occupied France. The Gestapo could intercept their signals and triangulate their frequencies to find the operators’ locations.

Noor’s biographer estimates the average life expectancy of a covert radio operator in Paris to be around a mere six weeks. Noor, however, survived double the time (three months), but was eventually captured due to betrayal. It is rumoured her looks and general presence were so desirable the betrayal can be traced to back to jealousy from a fellow female resistance associate. Even in the most noble of missions there may exist a dirty rat.

In a radio interview with PRI Basu comments that even when captured Noor was such a force the German secret police “needed six burly men to hold her down’ whilst Noor, ‘bit fiercely and drew blood.”

During the year of her imprisonment Noor made two escape attempts and yielded not information to her tortures. In fact, the Germans had no idea she was Indian and referred to her by her code name ‘Madeline’. Perhaps, protecting her true self and identity from her brutal captors helped Noor preserve her composure and challenge the lead bullets coursing towards her at the Dachau concentration camp with her favourite word, “Liberte”.

Legacy Of Love

After the war her bravve sacrifice for liberty was honoured with the George Cross in England. The French, far more impressed with the gumption Noor displayed in the resistance paid tribute with the Croix de Guerre, two memorials and an annual ceremony that honours Noor’s courage and love for humanity.

Historians widely believe that despite all these nationalistic tributes from the two countries Noor spent the majority of her life in, her sacrifice was not laid on the altar of Britain or France – it was out of her hatred to suffocating fascism and despotic dictators. If we can take anything from Noor’s story, it shows that when peace lovers are pushed into a corner by evil and violence, they will put their beliefs aside for the moment, so that their beliefs have a permanant future in a world that is not only tolerant, but tolerable.

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