Noor Inayat Khan
|Noor Inayat Khan, GC|
Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, GC
|Nickname(s)||'Madeleine' (Callsign: Nurse); 'Jeanne-Marie Renier'|
2 January 1914|
Moscow, Russian Empire
|Died||13 September 1944
KZ Dachau, Germany
|Allegiance||United Kingdom, France|
|Service/branch||Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF),
Special Operations Executive (SOE)
First Aid Nursing Yeomanry
|Years of service||1940-1944 (WAAF)
|Rank||Assistant Section Officer (WAAF)
|Awards||George Cross, Croix de Guerre, Mentioned in Dispatches|
Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, GC, (Hindustani, (Urdu): نور عنایت خان, Devanagari: नूर इनायत ख़ान) (2 January 1914 – 13 September 1944) was an Allied SOE agent during the Second World War who was awarded the George Cross, the highest civilian decoration in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations.
Also known as "Nora Baker", "Madeleine", and "Jeanne-Marie Rennier," she was of Indian origin. As an SOE agent during the Second World War, she became the first female radio operator to be sent from Britain into occupied France to aid the French Resistance.
Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, the eldest of four children, was born in Moscow. Her siblings were Vilayat (born 1916), Hidayat (born 1917), and Khair-un-Nisa (born 1919). Her father, Hazrat Inayat Khan, was born to nobility and came from a princely Indian Muslim family - his mother was a descendant of the uncle of Tipu Sultan, the 18th-century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. He lived in Europe as a musician and a teacher of Sufism. Her mother Ameena Begum (Ora Meena Ray Baker) was an American from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who met Hazrat Inayat Khan during his travels in the United States. Ora Baker was the half-sister of American yogi and scholar Pierre Bernard, her guardian at the time she met Hazrat. Vilayat later became head of the Sufi Order International.
In 1914, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, the family left Russia for London, and lived in Bloomsbury. Noor attended nursery at Notting Hill. In 1920 they moved to France, settling in Suresnes near Paris, in a house that was a gift from a benefactor of the Sufi movement. After the death of her father in 1927, Noor took on the responsibility for her grief-stricken mother and her younger siblings. The young girl, described as quiet, shy, sensitive, and dreamy, studied child psychology at the Sorbonne and music at the Paris Conservatory under Nadia Boulanger, composing for harp and piano. She began a career writing poetry and children's stories and became a regular contributor to children's magazines and French radio. In 1939 her book, Twenty Jataka Tales (ISBN 978-0892813230), inspired by the Jataka tales of Buddhist tradition, was published in London.
Women's Auxiliary Air Force
Although Noor was deeply influenced by the pacifist teachings of her father, she and her brother Vilayat decided to help defeat Nazi tyranny: "I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war. If one or two could do something in the Allied service which was very brave and which everybody admired it would help to make a bridge between the English people and the Indians."
On 19 November 1940, she joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and, as an Aircraftwoman 2nd Class, was sent to be trained as a wireless operator. Upon assignment to a bomber training school in June 1941, she applied for a commission in an effort to relieve herself of the boring work there, subsequently being promoted Assistant Section Officer.
Special Operations Executive F Section agent
Later Noor Inayat Khan was recruited to join F (France) Section of the Special Operations Executive and in early February 1943 she was posted to the Air Ministry, Directorate of Air Intelligence, seconded to First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), and sent to Wanborough Manor, near Guildford in Surrey, and from there to various other SOE schools for training, including STS 5 Winterfold House, STS 36 Boarmans and STS 52 Thame Park. During her training she adopted the name "Nora Baker".
Her superiors held mixed opinions on her suitability for secret warfare, and her training was incomplete. Nevertheless, her fluent French and her competency in wireless operation—coupled with a shortage of experienced agents—made her a desirable candidate for service in Nazi-occupied France. On 16/17 June 1943, cryptonymed 'Madeleine'/W/T operator 'Nurse' and under the cover identity of Jeanne-Marie Regnier, Assistant Section Officer/Ensign Inayat Khan was flown to landing ground B/20A 'Indigestion' in Northern France on a night landing double Lysander operation, code named Teacher/Nurse/Chaplain/Monk. She was met by Henri Déricourt.
She travelled to Paris, and with two other women, Diana Rowden (code named Paulette/Chaplain), and Cecily Lefort (code named Alice/Teacher), joined the Physician network led by Francis Suttill (code named Prosper). Over the next month and a half, all the other Physician network radio operators were arrested by the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), along with hundreds of Resistance personnel associated with Prosper. Colonel Maurice Buckmaster, head of F Section, later claimed that in spite of the danger, Noor rejected an offer to return to Britain, although it was certainly in SOE's interest that she stay in the field in the aftermath of the round-up of their largest network. As the only remaining wireless operator still at large in Paris, Noor continued to transmit to London messages from agents of what remained of the Prosper/Physician circuit, a network she also worked to keep intact despite the mass arrests of its members. She was now the most wanted British agent in Paris with SD officers sent out to look for her at subway stations, and an accurate description of her widely circulated among German security officers. With wireless detection vans in close pursuit, Noor could only transmit for twenty minutes at one time in one place, but constantly moving from place to place, she managed to escape capture while maintaining wireless communication with London: "She refused to abandon what had become the most important and dangerous post in France and did excellent work."
Capture and imprisonment
Noor Inayat Khan was betrayed to the Germans, either by Henri Déricourt or by Renée Garry. Déricourt (code name Gilbert) was an SOE officer and former French Air Force pilot who had been suspected of working as a double agent for the Sicherheitsdienst. Garry was the sister of Émile Garry, Inayat Khan's organizer in the Cinema network (later renamed Phono). Allegedly paid 100,000 francs, Renée Garry's actions have been attributed by some to jealousy due to Garry's suspicion that she had lost the affections of SOE agent France Antelme to Noor.
On or around 13 October 1943, Noor was arrested and interrogated at the SD Headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch in Paris. Though SOE trainers had expressed doubts about her gentle and unworldly character, on her arrest she fought so fiercely that SD officers were afraid of her. She was thenceforth treated as an extremely dangerous prisoner. There is no evidence of her being tortured, but her interrogation lasted over a month. During that time, she attempted escape twice. Hans Kieffer, the former head of the SD in Paris, testified after the war that she did not give the Gestapo a single piece of information, but lied consistently.
Although Noor did not talk about her activities under interrogation, the SD found her notebooks. Contrary to security regulations, she had copied out all the messages she had sent as an SOE operative (this may have been due to her misunderstanding what a reference to filing meant in her orders, and also the truncated nature of her security course due to the need to insert her into France as soon as possible). Although she refused to reveal any secret codes, the Germans gained enough information from them to continue sending false messages imitating her. London failed to properly investigate anomalies which should have indicated the transmissions were sent under enemy control. What in particular should have been noticed was the change in the 'fist', that is the style of the operator's Morse transmission, because Noor's was noticeably heavy. Indeed, as a WAAF signaller, Noor had been nicknamed 'Bang Away Lulu' because of her distinctively heavy-handed style, which was said to be a result of chilblains.
And so, as a result of London's errors, three more agents sent to France were captured by the Germans at their parachute landing, among them Madeleine Damerment, who was later executed. Sonia Olschanesky ('Tania'), a locally recruited SOE agent had learnt of Noor's arrest, and had sent a message to London through her fiance, Jacques Weil, telling Baker Street of her capture and warning HQ to suspect any transmissions from 'Madelaine'. Unfortunately, Colonel Maurice Buckmaster ignored the message as unreliable because he did not know who Sonia was. As a result, German transmissions from Noor's radio continued to be treated as genuine, leading to the unnecessary deaths of SOE agents, including Sonia herself, who was executed at Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp on 6 July 1944. When Vera Atkins investigated the deaths of missing SOE agents, she initially confused Noor with Sonia (they were similar in appearance), who was unknown to her, believing that Noor had been killed at Natzweiler, only correcting the record when she discovered Noor's fate at Dachau.
On 25 November 1943, Noor escaped from the SD Headquarters, along with fellow SOE Agents John Renshaw Starr and Leon Faye, but was captured in the vicinity. There was an air raid alert as they escaped across the roof. Regulations required a count of prisoners at such times and their escape was discovered before they could get away. After refusing to sign a declaration renouncing future escape attempts, Noor was taken to Germany on 27 November 1943 "for safe custody" and imprisoned at Pforzheim in solitary confinement as a "Nacht und Nebel" ("Night and Fog": condemned to "Disappearance without Trace") prisoner, in complete secrecy. For ten months, she was kept there shackled at hands and feet.
She was classified as "highly dangerous" and shackled in chains most of the time. As the prison director testified after the war, Noor remained uncooperative and continued to refuse to give any information on her work or her fellow operatives, although in her despair at the appalling nature of her confinement, other prisoners could hear her crying at night. However, by the ingenious method of scratching messages on the base of her mess cup, she was able to inform another inmate of her identity, giving the name of Nora Baker and the London address of her mother's house.
On 11 September 1944, Noor and three other SOE agents from Karlsruhe prison, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman and Madeleine Damerment, were moved to the Dachau Concentration Camp. In the early hours of the morning of 13 September 1944, the four women were executed by a shot to the back of the head. Their bodies were immediately burned in the crematorium. An anonymous Dutch prisoner emerging in 1958 contended that Noor was cruelly beaten by a high-ranking SS officer named Wilhelm Ruppert before being shot from behind, which may have been the actual cause of her death. She may also have been sexually assaulted while in custody. Her last word has been recorded as, 'liberté'.
Noor Inayat Khan was 30 years old when she was killed in action.
Honours and awards
As she was still considered "missing" in 1946 she could not be recommended for the Member of the Order of the British Empire but was Mentioned in Despatches instead, in October 1946. Inayat Khan was the third of three Second World War FANY members to be awarded the George Cross, Britain's highest award for gallantry not in the face of the enemy.
At the beginning of 2011, a campaign was launched to raise £100,000 for a bronze bust of her in central London close to her former home. It was claimed that this would be the first memorial in Britain to either a Muslim or an Asian woman, but Inayat Khan had already been commemorated on the FANY memorial in St Paul's Church, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London, which lists the 52 members of the Corps who gave their lives on active service.
George Cross citation
|“||The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the GEORGE CROSS to:—
Assistant Section Officer Nora INAYAT-KHAN (9901), Women's Auxiliary Air Force.
Assistant Section Officer Nora INAYAT-KHAN was the first woman operator to be infiltrated into enemy occupied France, and was landed by Lysander aircraft on 16th June, 1943. During the weeks immediately following her arrival, the Gestapo made mass arrests in the Paris Resistance groups to which she had been detailed. She refused however to abandon what had become the principal and most dangerous post in France, although given the opportunity to return to England, because she did not wish to leave her French comrades without communications and she hoped also to rebuild her group. She remained at her post therefore and did the excellent work which earned her a posthumous Mention in Despatches.
The Gestapo had a full description of her, but knew only her code name "Madeleine". They deployed considerable forces in their effort to catch her and so break the last remaining link with London. After 3 months she was betrayed to the Gestapo and taken to their H.Q. in the Avenue Foch. The Gestapo had found her codes and messages and were now in a position to work back to London. They asked her to co-operate, but she refused and gave them no information of any kind. She was imprisoned in one of the cells on the 5th floor of the Gestapo H.Q. and remained there for several weeks during which time she made two unsuccessful attempts at escape. She was asked to sign a declaration that she would make no further attempts but she refused and the Chief of the Gestapo obtained permission from Berlin to send her to Germany for "safe custody". She was the first agent to be sent to Germany.
Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN was sent to Karlsruhe in November; 1943, and then to Pforzheim where her cell was apart from the main prison. She was considered to be a particularly dangerous and unco-operative prisoner. The Director of the prison has also been interrogated and has confirmed that Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN, when interrogated by the Karlsruhe Gestapo, refused to give any information whatsoever, either as to her work or her colleagues.
She was taken with three others to Dachau Camp on the 12 September 1944. On arrival, she was taken to the crematorium and shot.
Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN displayed the most conspicuous courage, both moral and physical over a period of more than 12 months.
In February 1979, a six-hour miniseries, A Man Called Intrepid, was made. It was broadcast in Canada on CTV and in the US on NBC. In this fact-based miniseries which starred David Niven as its protagonist Sir William Stephenson, Noor was played by American Jewish actress Barbara Hershey, and the following deviations from facts are noted:
- her alternate name "Nora Baker" was never mentioned
- her capture was attributed to German diligence in sweeping for transmissions, not to betrayal by Déricourt or Garry
- the torture was managed by "Colonel Juergen", a composite character partly based on Wilhelm Ruppert - it is unlikely that a single German military officer would have been in four locations: Paris Gestapo, Karlsruhe prison, Dachau and the Oslo branch of SD (even sequentially)
- during the escape attempt by herself and Starr (unnamed), she reached her transmitter - only to find out that she had been set up by Juergen, and that Starr was his plant
- when the fake transmissions were sent in her name, Noor managed to signal her (fictitious) handler and lover Evan Michaelian (played by Michael York) that she was compromised by giving an incorrect answer to a question which related to a secret she had revealed to him (and Michaelian was able to then tell Stephenson and SOE to retaliate with faked replies)
- another escape attempt was arranged by Juergen on the route from Karlsruhe to Dachau - and she was executed alone (no mention of Beekman, Plewman and Damerment) after not being taken in. Also Juergen wept after her execution (which was not likely from Ruppert)
- while Ruppert was executed on 29 May 1946 by the American forces in Germany, Juergen was killed in 1945 in Oslo Harbour by the second of two bombs planted by Michaelian who thus (possibly inadvertently) avenged her execution
On 19 September 2008, contestant Christopher Atkins appeared on the BBC2 TV show Mastermind, with Noor Inayat-Khan as his specialist subject. On the specialist subject round, he scored 17 points, getting every question correct.
On March 3, 2013, Irfanulla Shariff, an American poet, posted a poem on the internet, "A Tribute To The Illuminated Woman Of World War II", the very first poem dedicated to Noor Inayat Khan. It fully illustrates the life story of this remarkable heroic woman of World War II.
In June 2013, Robert H. Gardner began directing a 60-minute biographical docu-drama to air on PBS in 2014. Unity Productions Foundation is scheduled to release this production as Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story. The executive producers are Michael Wolfe and Alex Kronemer (A Prince Among Slaves, Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World).
- The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan: Noor Inayat Khan - Life of a Spy Princess (5)
- Sufi Order International: Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan
- Delhi Information: Tomb of Hazrat Inayat Khan
- Claims that Ora Ray Baker was related to Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy require corroboration.
- Noor Anayat Khan: The princess who became a spy "The Independent", Monday, 20 February 2006
- letter from Noor Khan, quoted in Rozina Visram - "Ayahs, Lascars and Princes: The Story of Indians in Britain 1700-1947", Pluto Press, 1986, p. 142
- Anthony Cave Brown "Bodyguard of Lies: The Extraordinary True Story Behind D-Day", The Lyons Press, 2007, page 551
- The London Gazette: . 5 April 1949. Retrieved 2007-11-16.
- Foot, M. R. D., SOE in France, WHP, 2004, pp. 297-299
- BBC Timewatch 19 May 2006
- Beryl E. Escott (1991) 'Mission Improbable' for chapter on Noor.
- The National Archives, Selected Document Release, 2003, Noor Inayat KHAN (1914-44) (HS 9/836/5)
- Sarah Helm, 'A Life in Secrets: The Story of Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE' & 2005 pp295-296.
- A letter from Noor Khan, quoted in Rozina Visram's Ayahs, Lascars and Princes: the story of Indians in Britain 1700-1947, Pluto Press, 1986, p. 143
- Basu, Shrabani. Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan", Sutton Publishing, 2006, pp. xx-xxi.
- Hamilton, Alan "Exotic British spy who defied Gestapo brutality to the end" in The Times, 13 May 2006, page 26
- Helm, Sarah. "The Gestapo Killer Who Lived Twice". The Sunday Times Magazine, 7 August 2005, page 9
- "George Cross, George Medal and the Medal of the Order of the British Empire (military): Air Ministry recommendation to the Selection Committee and correspondence (Assistant Section Officer Nora Inayat-Khan, Women's Auxiliary Air Force)", T 351/47, National Archives, Kew.
- London Gazette, 1 October 1946
- Cahal Milmo (2011-01-04). "Honoured at last, the Indian heroine of Churchill's spy squad". The Independent. Retrieved 2011-01-04.
- Divya Talwar (2011-01-11). "Churchill's Asian spy princess comes out of the shadows". BBC News website. Retrieved 2011-01-11.
- St Paul's Church Memorial, Belgravia, London
- Unveiling of the Memorial for Noor Inayat Khan Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust November 2012
- "Shrabani Basu's Spy Princess is optioned by Hollywood". Asia Pacific Arts. 2012-10-05.
- "The Noor Inayat Khan Story in pre production". Gardner Films. 2013-06-30.
- Leopold Samuel Marks (1998), Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's Story 1941-1945. HarperCollins, 2000. ISBN 0-684-86780-X
- Shrabani Basu - Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan, Sutton Publishing, 2006, ISBN 0-7509-3965-6. Biography
- Shrabani Basu Noor Anayat Khan: The princess who became a spy The Independent; 20 February 2006
- Jean Overton Fuller - Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan: Madeleine, East-West Publications, 1988. Biography.
- Marcus Binney - The Women Who Lived For Danger: The Women Agents of SOE in the Second World War, Coronet Books, 2003
- Sarah Helm - A Life in Secrets: The Story of Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE, Abacus, 2005
- M. R. D. Foot - S.O.E. in France, Frank Cass Publishers, 2004 (first published London, HMSO 1966). Official history.
- Shauna Singh Baldwin - The Tiger Claw, Knopf Canada, 2004. 592 pages, Paperback: Vintage Canada (July 26, 2005) ISBN 0-676-97621-2 A novel based on her life.
- Laurent Joffrin - La princesse oubliée, 2004. A novel in French based on her life.
- William Stevenson - A Man Called Intrepid, The Lyons Press, 1976, Part II, Chapter 27.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Noor Inayat Khan.|
- Biography of SOE agent Noor Inayat Khan at Nigel Perrin's site
- Inayat Khan Profile at BBC History
- BBC Timewatch website (with picture gallery)
- The real Charlotte Grays (Channel 4 website on female SOE agents)
- More pictures of Noor Inayat Khan
- PR TV "Citoyens Visibles" - Noor Inayat Khan (video)
- "A Tribute To The Illuminated Woman Of World War II" by Irfanulla Shariff, a poem dedicated to Noor Inayat Khan.