Indian ‘spy princess’ honored for work in occupied France during World War II
Britain’s Princess Anne was to unveil a sculpture on Thursday of Noor Inayat Khan, dubbed the “spy princess”, who was sent into occupied France in World War II to help the resistance.
Anne, Queen Elizabeth II’s daughter, was to unveil a bronze bust in central London’s Gordon Square Gardens, in honour of Khan, who was the first female wireless operator sent to Nazi-occupied France.
Codenamed Madeleine, she was captured and shot dead aged 30 at the Dachau concentration camp in September 1944.
The Guardian newspaper described Khan as Britain’s only female Muslim war heroine and said the bust would be the first stand-alone memorial to an Asian woman in the country.
She was born into a princely Indian Sufi family and was descended from Tipu Sultan, the 18th-century ruler of Mysore.
Khan was born on January 1, 1914 in Moscow to her Indian father and an American mother. Her infancy was spent in London before the family moved to Paris. She spoke fluent French and began a career as a children’s writer.
Escaping to England by boat before the French surrender to Nazi Germany in 1940, she joined the British military as a wireless operator and was recruited by the Special Operations Executive elite spy squad in 1942.
She was deployed to France in June 1943 and worked in the resistance and sent intercepted radio messages back to Britain for as long as possible.
Her superiors urged her to return across the Channel but she carried on and single-handedly ran a network of spies across Paris for three more months as her team was gradually captured by the Gestapo.
She was eventually betrayed and arrested, but refused to divulge any information despite 10 months of torture, beatings and starvation.
She was transferred to Dachau in southern Germany, where she was executed.
Gordon Square Gardens are close to where Khan lived on Taviton Street and where she played as a child.
Her biographer Shrabani Basu, who researched Khan for eight years, told the BBC: “She was this gentle writer of children’s stories, a musician, but she was transformed. She was a tigress in the field.
“For her to come into this world on the front line, taking on the Gestapo, showed her inner strength and her courage, her immense courage and resilience.
“It’s very inspiring, especially given the troubled times that we live in. It is important to remember these qualities and values.
“Two and a half million Indians volunteered for the war effort and it was the largest single volunteer army.
“We must not forget their contribution. Noor was part of this.”