A Note On Espionage…..
Noor Inayat Khan (January 1, 1914-September 13, 1944) – popularly known as Spy Princess – is an unsung heroine of the WWII. The Indian-origin British spy, who started her career during the Great War, is yet to get the recognition she deserves. However, Britain may honour Khan 76 years after her death. According to sources close to the Theresa May government in London, Khan is likely to be featured on the new, post-Brexit GBP 50 note, the highest-denomination note in the UK, and set to be reissued in plastic from 2020. Recently, social activists and historians have launched a petition for having Khan’s face printed on the note.
Social activist Zehra Zaidi, historian Dan Snow, Chairman of the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi have urged the May administration to honour Khan immediately after the Brexit. Talking to the local media in London, Zaidi recently said: “Noor Inayat Khan was an inspirational and complex woman who was a Brit, a soldier, a writer, a Muslim, an Indian Independence supporter, a Sufi, a fighter against Fascism and a heroine to all. She navigated complex identities and has so much resonance in the world we live in today.”
Who was Noor Inayat Khan, alias Nora Inayat-Khan, alias Nora Baker Madeleine, alias Jeanne-Marie Renier?
Khan, the eldest of four siblings, was born on January 1, 1914 in Moscow. Her father, Inayat Khan, was a musician and a teacher of Sufism. Inayat’s mother was a descendant of the uncle of Tipu Sultan, the 18th Century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. Khan’s mother, Pirani Ameena Begum (born Ora Ray Baker), was an American and the sister of noted American educationist Pierre Bernard. Later, she studied Child Psychology at the Sorbonne and music at the Paris Conservatory under Nadia Boulanger. She had also studied Sufism.
During the WWII (in 1939), Khan joined the French unit of Red Cross as a nurse. Next year, she and her brother Vilayat decided to help the Allied forces win the WWII against the Axis powers. As France was a member of the Allies, they thought that their contribution to a French victory over the Nazis would bring the Britons closer to the Indians. Once, Khan said: “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.” So, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a wireless operator. She was the first woman radio operator in Nazi-occupied France. Later, her efficiency helped Khan join the French branch of Special Operation Executive as a spy.
The current note
The lady, who was posthumously awarded the George Cross – the second highest award of the British honours system – in 1949, and a French Croix de Guerre with silver star (Avec Étoile De Vermeil), also took part in the Indian Freedom Movement.
When the Nazis arrested almost all the wireless operators in Germany-occupied Paris, Khan maintained friendly relations with the Germans and continued to send secret messages to London.
However, the Gestapo had used Henri Déricourt or Renée Garry – a former French Air Force pilot who had been suspected of working as a double agent for the Sicherheitsdienst – to capture Khan in October 1943. She tried to escape twice, but failed. On September 12, 1944, Khan was transferred to Dachau concentration camp with fellow agents Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Eliane Plewman. At dawn on the following morning, they were executed by the Nazis.
In her publication ‘A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII‘ (2005), Sarah Helm wrote: “The four prisoners now had to kneel with their heads towards a small mound of earth and were killed by the two SS, one after another by a shot through the back of the neck. During the shooting the two Englishwomen held hands and the two French-women likewise. For three of the prisoners the first shot caused death, but for the German-speaking Englishwoman a second shot had to be fired as she still showed signs of life after the first shot.”
Way back in 1958, an anonymous Dutch prisoner had revealed that Inayat Khan was cruelly beaten by a Nazi officer – named Wilhelm Ruppert – before being shot from behind and her last word was ‘Liberté’!
Now, she will be back in Britain once again…
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