Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, better known as Nora Inayat Khan, who also went by the name Nora Baker, was Britain’s first Muslim war heroine, who fought against the Nazis during World War II.
Noor Inayat Khan was a direct descendant of Mysore’s Tipu Sultan, the 18thcentury ruler of Myrose, and was thus an Indian princess. She was born in 1914 in Moscow to a Sufi musician father and an American mother as the eldest of four children. Because of the outbreak of the First World War, she and her family fled to France, where they settled in a suburb of Paris.
As a young child, Noor liked to read and play music instruments like the harp and the veena. She studied child psychology at the Sorbonne and music at the Paris Conservatory. At the age of 25 she published her very first children’s stories book. The book‘Twenty Jataka Tales’ was inspired by the Jataka tales of Buddhist tradition.
In 1940, when World War II broke out and Germany invaded France, the family moved to Britain. Once there, the writer decided to volunteer in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) as an Aircraft-woman 2nd Class. In 1941 she attended a bomber training school. Because of her fluency in French she was noticed by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). This is a secretive organization set up by Winston Churchill ‘to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe’. Although some of her colleagues questioned her suitability because of her belief in nonviolence and her shy and feminine nature, she was assigned a secret agent in 1943 and sent to France as a radio operator. Her job was especially dangerous because of how easy the German secret police, Gestapo, could triangulate signals and find her location. Noor was passionate about her work and willing to take the risk in order to fight the Nazis.
In the first week as a secret agent in Paris, the Gestapo caught almost all of SOE’s operators in the city. However, Noor managed to escape. For the next three months she would change her location and identity in order to hide from the Gestapo and work for the SOE as the only undercover radio operator left in the region.
In the end Inayat Khan was caught by the Gestapo, because a double agent of the SOE betrayed her. She was arrested and interrogated and tried to escape twice, but both attempts were unsuccessful. Although this has led to her being violently interrogated, she did not talk about her undercover activities and did not reveal any secret codes to the German. One year after being captivated, she was transformed to the Dachau concentration camp. There she was brutally tortured before being shot in the head.
In 1949, Noor was awarded the George Cross and in 2006 her biography called ‘Spy Princess’, written by Shrabani Basu, was published. The very first stand-alone memorial of an Asian woman in the UK was Noor’s statue that was unveiled in 2012.