Friday, September 18, 2015

S.O.E. agent Noor Inayat Khan (1914 – 1944)

1. Noorunissa Inayat Khan (1914 – 1944)
[British Royal Mail special stamp (March 2014)]
2. Part of S.O.E. display, I.W.M., London
[Photograph and WW2 letter of Noor Inayat Khan]
Her S.O.E. code name was 'Madeleine'  
3. Paris and the Eiffel Tower from Paris Trocadero
'Madeleine' was sent to Paris by the S.O.E. in 1943
where she was a key wireless operator.  
4. Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, London
[Noor Inayat Khan lived near here for a time]
5. Bust of Noor Inayat Khan, Gordon Square
Unveiled by H.R.H. the Princess Royal (Princess Anne)
on Thursday 8 November 2012.
6. Close-up of Noor Inayat Khan Memorial
[Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, London

 For additional information click on ‘Comments’ below.


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information
A ‘Remarkable life’

In March 2014, Britain’s Royal Mail issued a special stamp series entitled ‘Remarkable Lives’, one of which was a first class stamp honouring Noorinissa (‘Noor’) Inayat Khan (1914 – 1944) [Photograph No. 1]. During WW2 Noor Inayat Khan served in the W.A.A.F. and the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.), serving under the first name of ‘Nora’ which is an anglicisation of her first name. Her S.O.E. code name was ‘Madeleine’.

At the Imperial War Museum, London there is a special section about the work of the S.O.E. during WW2, This includes a photograph of Noor (‘Madeleine’) and an original handwritten letter sent to Vera Atkins (assistant to the head of S.O.E.’s “F” Section) from Occupied France [Photograph No. 2]. The letter was brought back to Britain from France by an RAF aircraft after returning from a clandestine rendezvous.

In the letter, Noor thanks ‘Miss Atkins’ for her kindness and at this stage is in good spirits:
“I remember you so often. You cheered me up so sweetly before I left. Lots of things have happened and I have not been able to settle down properly. Still, my contacts have started to be regular and I am awfully happy. The news is marvellous and I hope we shall soon be celebrating …”

So, who was Noor Inayat Khan and what was regarded as remarkable about her life that she should be honoured with this special stamp? In June 1943 Noor / ‘Madeleine’ was landed in northern France. Her destination was Paris [seen in Photograph No. 3]. ‘Madeleine’ became a wireless operator, sending and receiving clandestine messages to London.

This was an especially difficult time for the S.O.E. in the Paris region because of betrayals and arrests. Eventually, in October 1943, Noor / ‘Madeleine’ was eventually betrayed and arrested by the Germans. A little under a year later, in September 1944, Noor Inayat Khan was executed at Dachau concentration camp in Germany.

Friday, 18 September, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Brief biographical details

Noorinissa (‘Noor’) Inayat Khan was the eldest of four siblings, the daughter of Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Muslim whose family belonged to the Indian nobility. Hazrat Inayat Khan worked as a musician and a teacher of Sufism (an inner mystical form of Islam) and travelled throughout North America and Europe. While visiting the United States, Hazrat Inayat Khan met and married Ora Meena Ray Baker (Ameena Begum), an American, who would become Noor’s mother.

After their marriage, Hazrat and Ora Inayat Khan travelled in Europe and Noor was born in Moscow, Russia in 1914. Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, also in 1914, the young family moved to London, living in Bloomsbury. The family were based in London until 1920. While in London, a favourite place of the family and especially Noor was Gordon Square Garden [Photograph No. 4]. In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century Gordon Square was the focus of many intellectuals, writers and artists who lived nearby, especially the so-called ‘Bloomsbury Group’.

It was largely because of the close connection of the Inayat Khan family and particularly for Noor that a corner of Gordon Square Gardens was chosen as the location for a London memorial for Noor Inayat Khan [Photograph No. 5 and Photograph No. 6].

Following the First World War, in 1920, the Inayat Khan family moved to France. Their house, at Sursenes on the western side of Paris between the Bois de Boulogne and Mont Valerian was gifted to them by a benefactor of the Sufi movement. Even when Hazrat Inayat Khan died in February 1927, the main family home remained at Sursenes. Noor and her siblings were therefore educated in France and spoke fluent French.

Noor’s formal education included studying child psychology at the Sorbonne. She also studied music at the Paris Conservatory. Before the Second World War Noor Inayat Khan contributed children’s stories and poems to French language magazines and radio.

In the summer of 1940, when the Germans invaded France, the Inayat Khans became “exodiens” (exiles) joining several million other civilians fleeing to the south and west before the arrival of German troops. The family went initially to Bordeaux in S.W. France and from there to Britain, landing at Falmouth, Cornwall on 22 June 1940.

Friday, 18 September, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Wartime service

During the research for her book about Vera Atkins and the lost wartime agents of the S.O.E., Sarah Helm interviewed Vilayat Inayat Khan (1916 – 2004), the eldest brother of Noor, at what was still the family home at Sursenes west of Paris. He explained the reasoning why he and Noor (Nora) became actively involved in the war:

“You see, Nora and I had been brought up with the policy of Ghandi’s non-violence and at the outbreak of war we discussed what we would do. She said ‘Well, I must do something but I don’t want to kill anyone.’ So I said, ‘Well, if we are going to join the war we have to involve ourselves in the most dangerous positions, which would mean no killing’.”
(Sarah Helm, “A Life in Secrets”, page 15)

Thus it was that Vilayat served on the Minesweepers and Noor eventually went on to serve in the S.O.E. Initially, Noor Inayat Khan enlisted to the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (W.A.A.F.) where she began training as a wireless operator. In 1941 Noor was assigned to a bomber training school and then promoted to Assistant Section Officer (eventually Section Officer, which is the rank listed on her C.W.G.C. record).

However, having spent much of her childhood in France and being a fluent French speaker, in February 1943 Noor was recruited to the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) F (French) Section. Administratively, the transfer was done by seconding to the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (F.A.N.Y.) and then attaching her to the S.O.E. As explained earlier, while in training Noor anglicised her first name to ‘Nora’. She also took the surname ‘Baker’ - 64 Baker Street, London was the headquarters of the S.O.E. Her S.O.E. codename was ‘Madeleine’.

In addition to her fluency in the French language, Noor also had an excellent knowledge of Paris and its environs and was a competent wireless operator. Hence, while Noor’s S.O.E. training was incomplete and some of the trainers had doubts about her ability, a shortage of suitable agents meant she was sent to France on the night of 16 / 17 June 1943 where she worked mainly for the Physician – Prosper network headed by Francis Suttill.

It was at this time in 1943 that the S.D. (German Security Service) were closing in on the S.O.E. and other Resistance networks, particularly in the Paris region. Many agents including all the other S.O.E. wireless operators of the Physician – Prosper circuit were arrested over the following weeks, largely due to betrayals and an alleged ‘double agent’. This left Noor as the circuit’s final wireless operator. As far as the S.D. was concerned, this last wireless operator in Paris was their most wanted British secret agent.

Noor continued to be in wireless contact with London but could transmit only for a maximum of 20 minutes at a time. In addition, she continually changed the location from where she transmitted messages.

Friday, 18 September, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Arrest and imprisonment

Although she was given the opportunity to return home, Noor stayed at her post. She was eventually betrayed to the Germans, although exactly by whom has been debated ever since the war. One of the prime suspects was Henri Déricourt (‘Gilbert’), a French S.O.E. agent who many believe was a double agent. He had met Noor when she arrived in France the previous June.

Noor was arrested on 12 October 1943, despite a ferocious fight against her captors. She was then taken to the notorious Paris headquarters of the S.D.: 84 Avenue Foch, not far from the Arc de Triomphe. During this time she made two escape attempts, one of which failed only because there was an Allied bombing raid taking place and the Germans checked on the prisoners.

While Noor did not divulge any secrets during interrogation the Germans managed to get hold of her wireless and notebooks. With these, they were able to continue sending and receiving false messages with London. Although there were anomalies with the message and operating style these were not followed up by the S.O.E. in London. Other agents were sent to France – straight into the arms of the waiting Germans!

The Germans regarded Noor as ‘highly dangerous’ and after her unsuccessful escape attempts asked her to sign a declaration she would not try to escape again. She refused. Consequently, on 27 November 1943, Noor Inayat Khan was taken to Germany "for safe custody", under the ‘Nacht und Nabel’(‘Night and Fog’) policy. It was an attempt to ensure certain prisoners disappeared without trace. For ten months, until September 1944, Noor was placed in solitary confinement and her hands and feet were shackled, reminiscent of the treatment of prisoners in the Middle Ages.

On 11 September 1944 Noor and three other S.O.E. women agents who were being held at Karlsruhe (Madeleine Damerment, Yolande Beekman and Eliane Plewman) were moved to the Dachau Concentration Camp. Early on the morning of 13 September 1944, these four S.O.E. women were executed (believed to have been shot in the back of the head).

Their bodies were taken immediately to the crematorium for burning. After the war, their fate came to light. It was reported that Noor’s final word was "Liberté" (Liberty).

Friday, 18 September, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

CWGC record and George Cross citation
After Noor’s fate had become clear, she was recommended for a George Medal (G.M.) which was ‘reduced’ to an M.B.E. She was also given a posthumous ‘Mention in Despatches’. In 1949, Noor was awarded a posthumous George Cross, one of three S.O.E. women to receive this honour. Also in 1949, she was awarded a French ‘Croix de Guerre avec étoile de vermeil’ (silver star). There are memorials to her memory at Paris and Dachau.

Her Commonwealth War Graves Commission remembrance is on the Runneymede Memorial in Surrey (for those with no known grave). This is the CWGC listing, which includes the George Cross citation:

Rank: Section Officer
Service No: 9901
Date of Death: 13/09/1944
Regiment/Service: Women's Auxiliary Air Force,
seconded to W.T.S. (F.A.N.Y.), attd. Special Operations Executive
Awards: G C, Mentioned in Despatches
Panel Reference: Panel 243.
Memorial: RUNNYMEDE MEMORIAL, Surrey (U.K.)
Additional Information: (Served as Nora).
Daughter of Mrs. O. R. Inayat-Khan, of Oxford.
The London Gazette of 5th April, 1949, gives the following details:

Assistant Section Officer Nora Inayat-Khan was the first woman operator to be sent into enemy-occupied France, on 16th June, 1943. During the weeks immediately following her arrival, the Gestapo made mass arrests among the Paris Resistance Groups, to which she was detailed. She refused to abandon what had become the most important and dangerous post in France, and did excellent work which earned her a posthumous Mention in Despatches.

After three and a half months she was betrayed to the Gestapo. They asked her to co-operate in the use of her codes which they discovered, but she refused and gave them no information of any kind. She twice attempted to escape, and when she refused to promise not to make any further attempts, she was sent to Germany "for safe custody"- first to Karlsruhe, then to Pfersheim, where again she refused to give any information as to her work or her colleagues.

On 12th September, 1944 she was taken with three others to Dachau concentration camp, where on arrival she was taken into the crematorium and shot. Assistant Section Officer Inayat-Khan displayed the most conspicuous courage, both moral and physical, over a period of more than twelve months.

Friday, 18 September, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The London memorial for the ‘Spy Princess’

In February 2006, the writer Shrabani Basu completed what can be regarded as the definitive biography of Noor Inayat Khan: “Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan”. Following its publication, a number of people contacted Shrabani Basu suggesting there should be a memorial in London to commemorate Noor.

The led to the creation of the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust and the eventual unveiling of the bust of Noor on 8 November 2012 by H.R.H. Princess Anne, the Princess Royal. Gordon Square Gardens was selected as the location fir the memorial as Noor and her family had lived nearby before moving to France in 1920 and again after fleeing from France in the summer of 1940. The sculptor was Karen Newman, who in 2009 had completed the sculpture a bust of another S.O.E. agent, Violette Szabo G.C., which can be found outside Lambeth Palace facing the Houses of Parliament.

Karen Newman’s sculpture of Noor is mounted on a plinth in Gordon Square Gardens [Photographs No. 5 and 6]. It is a fine tribute to her memory and within 10 – 15 walking distance of both the British Library and British Museum, both of which Noor visited regularly as an adult while living in this area.

Friday, 18 September, 2015  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Further reading

(1) This can be regarded as the definitive biography of Noor Inayat Khan:
Basu, Shrabani (2006), “Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan”, 256 pages, Sutton
[ISBN 0750939656 (ISBN13: 9780750939652)]

(2) This book about Vera Atkins and the S.O.E.’s ‘lost agents’ has several sections on Noor Inayat Khan:
Helm, Sarah (2006), “A Life In Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE”, 496 pages, Abacus
[ISBN: -10: 0349119368 (978-0349119366)]
External links

(1) The following link is to an interview on BBC Radio 4 “Woman’s Hour” interview (February 2011) with Shrabani Basu who has written the definitive biography of Noor Inayat Khan listed above:
Woman’s Hour interview with Shrabani Basu

(2) The following link is to the website of the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust, founded by Shrabani Basu, including information about the campaign that led to the dedication of the memorial to Noor in Gordon Square Park:
Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust website

Friday, 18 September, 2015  

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