Noor Inayat Khan: Tipu Sultan's Descendant Who Became A British Spy During World War II

Noor Inayat Khan was a descendant of the ruler of Mysore - Tipu Sultan,. She grew up in Britain and France, and served as a British resistance agent during WWII. The was the only Indian origin woman to have worked for Special Operations Executive (SOE), As an SOE wireless operator, she bravely operated behind enemy lines in France. During her mission she was captured by the Gestapo, the secret police of Nazi Germany and executed at Dachau concentration camp.
Noor

(Left) Noor Inayat Khan; (right) Noor Inayat Khan's inscription at the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, England. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

She worked as a British resistance agent in France during World War II and was eventually captured, tortured, and executed at Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp. However, not many know about Noor Inayat Khan, a descendant of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore. Tipu Sultan was her great-great-great-grandfather. She worked for Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE) and made history by becoming the first female operator to be sent behind enemy lines during World War II.
In 2020, Britain awarded her a Blue Plaque, making her the first woman of Indian origin to be honoured with the title for her sacrifices as an SOE agent in France.
Born, in the Russian capital of Moscow in 1914, her father, Inayat Khan, was a musician and a Sufi preacher. Just after World War I broke out, her family, who lived in Europe, moved to London. They lived in London for six years before relocating to the Parisian suburbs in 1920. She visited India only once, after the tragic death of her father in 1927.
In 1940, during World War II, France fell to the Nazis, and Noor's family fled to Britain. As the war started wreaking havoc, Noor became desperate to help and joined the Red Cross to train as a nurse. However, she decided to follow in her brother's footsteps and joined the armed forces. While he joined the Navy, Noor trained as a wireless operator for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She became a skilled wireless operator, which was noticed by the SOE, and she was recruited.
"This intelligence organisation was founded in 1940 and existed to 'assist and coordinate local clandestine activity against the occupying Nazis'. To help support resistance groups across Europe and beyond, the SOE needed to recruit men and women with a range of skills, from wireless operators to weapons experts," states BBC History Magazine.
She was trained to survive warfare, and while Noor was a pacifist and a believer in non-violence, she was also trained to handle weapons. Although she was an excellent wireless operator, everyone thought she wasn't meant for active warfare. Despite this, she was committed to her work as an SOE agent, and since the Paris network of the SOE needed someone as skilful as Noor, she was sent into the field in 1943. This was against the wishes of the trainers who knew she couldn't handle it. She was given the code name "Madeleine" and reached France to work with the French Resistance Network, Prosper. As part of her job, she had to communicate with the SOE in Britain and work for the Resistance, which included noting the arrival of agents and weapons to help with the Resistance.
Her role was critical and dangerous. Historian Kate Vigurs said in the "Life of the Week" podcast series, "Being a wireless operator was the most dangerous job for any SOE agent. To start with, the wireless sets were hidden inside suitcases, so you would be literally carrying the tools of your trade that would give you away in an instant. Operators were given a life expectancy of six weeks and a survival rate of 50-50.”
However, the official secret police of Nazi Germany, the Gestapo, managed to infiltrate Prosper, and arrests were made. She was the only wireless operator in Paris. She was brave enough to stick around and remain out of the Gestapo's reach.
On 13 October 1943, she was caught after being betrayed by a Frenchwoman. She carried a bounty of 100,000 francs on her head. After she was arrested, she was taken to the Gestapo’s headquarters in Paris at 84 Avenue Foch. She tried to escape and failed twice. After her last attempt to flee, she faced the horrors that the Nazi soldiers were capable of. "Her treatment changed overnight. She was put into manacles and registered as a ‘dangerous prisoner’ and was sent to Pforzheim prison, where she was kept in dreadful conditions. She was wearing a basic sackcloth and couldn’t raise her hands to her own mouth to feed herself," said Kate.
She was later transferred to the Dachau concentration camp to be executed and faced extreme torture before being shot dead. She was just 30.
Historian Shrabani Basu wrote a book, Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan, based her life.
End of Article
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