Noor Inayat Khan, a World War II spy, became the first Indian origin woman to be honoured with the Blue Plaque in the UK. She is also the first woman of South Asian descent to be given a blue plaque in London. She was awarded for her service in the Special Operations Executive during World War II.
The Blue Plaque scheme, run by the English Heritage charity honours notable people and organisations by installing a sign in a public place to commemorate the link between the place and the person.
Noor’s former home in Bloomsbury (where she lived as a secret agent during the war) has been recognised by English Heritage after first being nominated 14 years ago.
Here are some facts that describe Noor and her contributions to the war:
Noor Inayat Khan, a descendant of ruler Tipu Sultan, was born in Moscow on January 1, 1914, to her father Inayat Khan, a musician and Sufi preacher, and mother Amina Begum (previously Ora Ray Baker). Her family had moved to England shortly after World War I broke out.
A quiet, shy, sensitive, and dreamy child, Noor was a firm believer in non-violence and the oneness of all religions.
Noor started working as a children’s writer in Paris. She then escaped to England after the fall of France (when it was invaded by Germany) during the Second World War.
In November 1940, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, an arm of the UK’s Royal Air Force to train as a wireless operator. Noor then did a stint at the secret intelligence organisation set up by Winston Churchill called Special Operations Executive (SOE).
Noor was the first female wireless radio operator to be sent from the UK into occupied France to help the French Resistance during World War II. Her task was to make contact in Paris with Henri Garry (codename Cinema or Phono) and to serve as his wireless operator in the Le Mans area.
Noor’s codename was ‘Madeleine’ – the name of a character from one of her own stories. During her stay in France, she posed as a children’s nurse under the name of Jeanne-Marie Reinier.
Even as many members of the network were being arrested by the Nazi secret police Gestapo, Noor went undercover and worked in France for three months in order to set up crucial links and to send information back to London, moving from one place to another.
In October 1943, Noor got captured by the Gestapo, the political police of Nazi Germany, when she was about to return home. She had been betrayed and three other female agents on the 250-mile journey to the Dachau concentration camp- a German prison in solitary confinement.
She was shot dead at the Dachau concentration camp in southern Germany near Munich after months of torture for information. It is said that Noor refused to reveal anything and remained loyal to her country till the last breath.
Noor was awarded the highest honour in the UK, the George Cross, in 1949, and the French Croix de Guerre with the silver star posthumously.
Even though she was captured and killed by the Nazis, her contribution to the war came to light only after author Shrabani Basu wrote Noor’s biography, Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan, in 2006. Following the book came the movie A Call to Spy in 2019 that highlights Noor's (played by Radhika Apte) contribution and unforgettable legacy that she left behind.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)