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Anniversary of the Death of Noor Inayat Khan

Authored by Nishah Malik
Published on 13th September, 2022 3 min read

Anniversary of the Death of Noor Inayat Khan

An image of Noor Inayat Khan playing a string instrument.

Today, 13th September, marks 78 years since Noor Inayat Khan was executed in a Nazi concentration camp. Descendant of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in South India, Noor Inyat Khan was the first female wireless operator to be sent from Britain to Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War.

This Indian princess turned British spy was born in Moscow in 1914 to Ora Ray Baker and Inyat Khan, an Indian musician. She spent most of her life in France with her family where she became a keen writer and wrote children stories. However, in June 1940, just before German occupation in Paris, her and her family escaped to England in order to join the war effort. In November 1940 Noor joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and trained as a wireless operator.

In February 1943 she joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE), an organisation that aided local resistance movements in occupied Europe. Noor then began her agent training and leant how to shoot, read maps, fight without weapons and how to throw grenades. In March 1943 she became the first woman to be sent for specialist SOE signals training, which included specialist wireless operator training such as how to encode and decode messages, how a radio worked and how to fix a radio. Due to her fluency in French and radio skills, in June 1943, she was sent to France to become a secret wireless operator. She became the first female to be sent behind enemy lines in France.

Noor posed as a children’s nurse called Jeanne-Marie Renier. Her role included transporting supplies to the French resistance and sending reports of Nazi activity to London. When communicating with the SOE she used the codename ‘Madeleine’. However, in October 1943, Noor was arrested after she was betrayed and her address was sold to the Gestapo.

In November 1943 she was sent to the Pforzheim prison in Germany, where she was kept in solitary confinement for 10 months. While at the prison she was tortured and chained up, however refused to disclose any information. In September 1944 she was sent to the Dachau concentration camp and was shot on 13th September 1944 at the age of 30.

In 2020, Britain honoured Noor’s wartime efforts and awarded her with a Blue Plaque, becoming the first woman of South Asian descent to be awarded with one. Also, in 2012 a statue of Noor was placed in Gordon Square Gardens in London to commemorate her work.

"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.” – Noor Inyat Khan

Noor’s story is important for a number of reasons she was not only the first female radio operator to be sent into Nazi-occupied France, but she was also the first Muslim woman of colour to be given this important role. Noor’s heroic contributions to the war effort highlights just how diverse and how many different people helped lead Britain to victory in the Second World War.

Authored by Nishah Malik

Nishah Malik

Nishah Malik is Collections Editor at British Online Archives. Nishah gained a Masters in History from the University of Derby in 2020. Her research interests centre around South Asian culture and heritage, as well as the history and experiences of the South Asian diaspora. She also has a keen interest in women's history.

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The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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