12 Mar Noor Khan: Spy Princess
|Noor’s service portrait|
Continuing with Women’s History Month, I would like to introduce you to Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, born January 2, 1914, St. Petersburg, who became an Allied Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent during World War II. Her dedication and skill as the first female radio operator to assist the French Resistance in France, earned her the George Cross honor, which is the highest civilian honor in the United Kingdom.
Noor, of Indian and American decent, often being called Nora, was raised in Europe by a noble Indian Muslim father and an American mother from New Mexico. The family initially settled in Russia, but moved to London just before the outbreak of World War I. Shortly after war’s end, the family moved to France and remained there until France was invaded by the Germans at the outbreak of World War II, when they traveled back to England. These major life changes developed a keenly aware individual in Noor’s case. She had an intelligent understand of different cultures, dialects, and social graces. She studied child psychology and music during her formative years and then went on to begin a successful career as a children’s story and poetry writer as an adult.
|Noor was musically gifted|
World War II would alter her plans for her future dramatically. Despite her upbringing as a pacifist, Noor knew she had a role to play in the conflict to defeat the Nazi regime. By November 1940, Noor joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and was sent to train as a wireless operator. However, the monotony of her duties soon wore on her and so she applied for commission in a more rewarding field. She was consequently promoted to Assistant Section Officer and then recruited to join F (France) Section of the Special Operations Executive in February 1943. Her life for the next few months consisted of rigorous training all over England and despite her rushed training; superiors felt her language skills and competency in wireless communications made her an adequate candidate for Nazi occupied France. By June 1943, Noor was given a new identity as “Jeanne-Marie Regnier/Nurse”, Assistant Section Officer/Ensign Inayat Khan and landed in Northern France, on a night landing codenamed Teacher/Nurse/Chaplain/Monk.
Noor was joined by two other women in Paris, the Chaplain and the Teacher, and together they joined the larger network, codenamed Prosper. Within a month and a half, the network was compromised and hundreds of French Resistance personnel were arrested. Noor was the only remaining wireless operator at large in her circuit and was able to keep transmitting information to London. She quickly became the most wanted British Agent in France with German wireless detection details on her every move. To avoid detection, Noor could only transmit for twenty minutes in one place at a time. Her dedication and spirit kept her going through the most challenging ordeal of her life, thus far.
As if matters could not get any worse, Noor was betrayed by one of her own, a colleague who was either a double agent for the Sicherheitsdienst or jealous of her talents. Nevertheless, on October 13, 1943, Noor was arrested and taken to the SD Headquarters, Paris, for interrogations. Despite her quite and passive aggressive nature, Noor fought arrest with such violent force, the officers treated as a dangerous prisoner. However, though there was no evidence to suggest she had been tortured, her interrogations lasted over a month. She lied to the Gestapo at every encounter to avoid divulging information and attempted to escape twice while in captivity. As a result, she was sent to a German prison, in Pforzheim, in solitary confinement as a “Nacht und Nebel”, or “Night and Fog”, meaning her whereabouts were completely secret. She was held captive for ten months. Her conditions of confinement were horrible and other prisoners could hear her weeping at night. Through her training and sheer genius, Noor was able to transmit messages to fellow prisoners by scraping her mess cup on the floor. Eventually someone nearby was able to identify her and her address in London.
|Bust resurrected in Noor’s honor, London|
In September 1944, she and three other agents were transferred to Dachau Concentration Camp and subsequently executed. An anonymous Dutch prisoner recorded that Noor’s last words were “Libertѐ”.
Five years later, Noor was awarded the George Cross and the French Croix de Guerre for her service and is now memorialized in London.
If you are interested in Noor’s story, a biographic film was produced in 2012, entitled, Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan.