Sunday, December 3, 2023

Noor Inayat Khan

Noor Inayat Khan

Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan was called Nora Baker and Nora Inayat-Khan. She (1 January 1914 – 13 September 1944) was one of the British resistance agents serving in the SOE or Special Operations Executive in France in World War II. SOE's purpose was to conduct espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance in several nations that the Axis powers had occupied, mainly those that Nazi Germany had occupied.

She was an SOE agent who was working under the codename Madeleine. Noor was the first lady wireless operator who was sent from the UK to aid the French Resistance during World War II. But she got betrayed and captured. Later, she was executed at the Dachau concentration camp. Noor received the George Cross award for her service, the highest civilian decoration for gallantry in the UK.

Who Was Noor Khan?

Noor Khan, called Noor-Un-Nissa Inayat Khan, Nora Baker, Noor Inayat Khan, was a spy in Britain.

Go through this article to learn about the important information regarding Noor.

Noor Inayat Khan Early Life:

This British spy was sent to occupied France during World War 2 as a secret agent. After going there, her life was cut short brutally at the Gestapo's hands. Now, let's learn about her early life in detail.

Noor was born on 1st January 1914 in Moscow. Her father was Indian Muslim, whereas her mother was American. Noor's father was a musician and a Sufi teacher. Besides, her father was a descendant of Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore who ruled the Kingdom of Mysore in south India.

Mother Ora Ray Baker

Her mother, called Ora Ray Baker, was a poet. Once her mother married her father, she took the Pirani Ameena Begum name. She met her father while travelling throughout the United States. Among the four kids of the couple, Noor was the eldest.

When she was a baby, there was an international conflict on the horizon. It was shortly before the First World War. After that, her family left Moscow in order to move to London and settle in the Bloomsbury area.

The early years of Noor were spent in London before her family went to France (2 years after the end of the war). When her family lived on the continent, they moved into a house near Paris, and here she spent much of her life.

When she was 13, she had to deal with a personal tragedy. During this time, her father died. But her mother and younger siblings were enveloped by grief.  Although she was a youngster then, Noor felt responsible for her family. The sense of her duty became a cornerstone of her personality.

World War II

Before the outbreak of World War I in 1914, her family left Russia and started living in Bloomsbury.

She also attended a nursery in Notting Hill. They moved in 1920 to France and settled in Suresnes near Paris. The house where they settled was gifted by a benefactor of the Sufi movement. When she was young, she was shy, quiet, sensitive, and also dreamy. But after her father's death, she took the responsibility of her family — her grief-stricken mother of her younger siblings. She went to Sorbonne in order to study child psychology. Besides, she studied music at the Paris Conservatory under Nadia Boulanger, composing for piano & harp.

When she was young, she wanted to be a writer. According to the plan, she started her career by publishing her poetry. She published children's stories in English & French. Later, she became a daily contributor to magazines of children & French radio. She also wrote a book named Twenty Jataka Tales, inspired by the Jataka tales of Buddhist tradition in 1939. George G. Harrap and Co published the book in London. Unfortunately, the War changed everything including her and her family’s lives. She, with her family, moved to England in June 1940 from Paris. The reason is that German troops had invaded France.

When they moved to England, they stayed in the home of Basil Mitchell in the initial times. Mitchell is a philosopher influenced greatly by the teachings of her father. Noor and her brother were willing to contribute to the war effort, though she had a Sufi background that preaches non-violence. Noor joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in November of the same year, and she was trained as a wireless operator.

Life in Bordeaux

When German Troops invaded France, her family went to Bordeaux, after the Second World War's outbreak. Then, they went to England by sea and landed at Falmouth in Cornwall on 22 June 1940. Southampton, the parental home of the philosopher Basil Mitchell, is where they stayed initially.

Noor was assigned to the bomber training school in the following year before she became part of the France Section of the SOE in 1943. But during this time, she needed to have specialist training as a wireless operator in occupied France. Previously, all women worked as couriers only. Therefore, she became the first lady who fulfilled the position properly.

When she was taking an intensive training course, she had gone through a mock Gestapo interrogation. Besides, she faced multiple challenges that were conducted to test her competencies. There were a few superior officers who had different opinions over her proper qualities to complete such a mission. But she is not so athletic. However, the commitment of Noor was unwavering. Noor was deemed suitable for sending to France.

Women's Auxiliary Air Force:

It was true that pacifist ideals influenced her deeply. But she, with Vilayat, her brother, decided to assist in defeating Nazi tyranny.

In the November month of 1940, she joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and, then as an Aircraftwoman 2nd Class, she was sent to be trained as a wireless operator.

Capture And Imprisonment:

She remained in radio contact with London. Buckmaster asked her that she might be flown home. But she told him that she might like to remain because she thought of being the only radio operator in Paris. However, Buckmaster agreed to it. Noor was told to receive signals instead of transmitting.


She was betrayed to the Germans, possibly by Renée Garry, the sister of Émile Henri Garry, the head agent of the 'Cinema' as well as the 'Phono' circuits, and the organiser of Inayat Khan in the Cinema network that was later renamed Phono. However, later, Émile Henri Garry was arrested as well as executed in September 1944 at Buchenwald.

Renée Garry was paid allegedly 100,000 francs. The actions of Noor have been attributed at least to Garry's suspicion that she lost the affection of SOE agent France Antelme to Noor. However, once the war ended, she tried but escaped conviction by one vote.

Arrest of Noor Inayat Khan

She was arrested on or around 13 October 1943. Later, she was interrogated at the SD Headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch in Paris. Then, she attempted to run away twice. The former name of the head of the SD in Paris was Hans Kieffer, who testified after the war that she had not given Gestapo any details, but lied consistently.

But according to other sources, she chatted with an Alsatian interrogator. These sources said that Noor gave personal details, which allowed the SD to answer random checks about her childhood & family. She never released the secret of her activities when she was interrogated. However, the SD found Noor's notebooks. She copied all messages sent by her as an SOE operative, contrary to security regulations. Despite refusing to reveal any secret codes, sufficient information was gained by Germans from them to continuously send false messages imitating her.

According to some people, London did not succeed in investigating anomalies appropriately. It meant that the transmissions were sent under enemy control in the 'fist', the style of the Morse transmission of the operator. Being a WAAF signaller, she got the "Bang Away Lulu" nickname. The reason is that she had a distinctively heavy-handed style that is considered the result of chilblains.

M.R.D. Foot said that SD was adept at faking the fists of operators. The actual reason for the intelligence failures is SD's well-organised work of Hans Josef Kieffer. The air-landing officer of the F Section in France is Déricourt, who gave the secrets of SOE to the SD in Paris. He said later that he used to work for the SIS, the Secret Intelligence Service, that we know commonly as MI6, without having knowledge about SOE.

That's why three more agents who were sent to France were captured by the Germans. However, Madeleine Damerment was executed later. There was a locally recruited SOE agent, named Sonya Olschanezky, who learned of the arrest of Noor. Then, the agent sent a message to London through Jacques Weil, who is her fiancé. The agent told Baker Street of her capture as well as warned HQ to suspect transmissions from "Madeleine".


She was later, on 12 September 1944, transferred to the Dachau concentration camp. And there were some agents with her— Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment & Eliane Plewman. The four women were executed at dawn on the following morning.

 The in-charge of prisoner transports at Karlsruhe was Max Wassmer, who was a Gestapo man. He accompanied the women to Dachau. Christian Ott was another Gestapo man who gave a statement to US investigators after the war as to her fate & her three companions. After Ott was stationed at Karlsruhe, he volunteered in order to accompany the four women to Dachau. The reason is that he was willing to visit Stuttgart to meet his family while returning. Although he was not present at the execution, Ott told investigators everything that had been told by Wassmer.

It is an unreliable account. The reason is that Ott told the investigator about his asking Wassmer the following question after he got to know what had happened to the women. But an anonymous Dutch prisoner said that Noor was beaten by an SS officer cruelly in 1958 before getting shot from behind. The name of the officer was Wilhelm Ruppert before. "Liberté" was the last word she reported. However, her mother and three siblings survived her.

Special Operations Executive:

She was later recruited in order to join the Special Operations Executive's F (France) Section. Noor was posted to the Air Ministry, Directorate of Air Intelligence, seconded to First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) in early February 1943. Besides, Noor needed to go to Wanborough Manor, which is near Guildford in Surrey. Later, Noor was ordered to Aylesbury which is in Buckinghamshire, where she got special training in occupied territory as a wireless operator. She became the first woman who was sent over in such a capacity. As she had wireless telegraphy (W/T) training previously, she had an edge over the people who just started their radio training.

Her best training exercise was the mock Gestapo interrogation, which aims to let agents know what could be there for them when they were captured. The escaping officer of Noor found her interrogation unbearable. According to his report, Noor was terrific and overwhelmed so much that she nearly lost her voice. Later, Noor was quite blanched. Now, let's know the honours that she got.

Honours and awards:

She got the George Cross award in 1949. Also, she got a French Croix de Guerre award with a silver star (avec étoile de vermeil). In 1946, she was still considered missing. Therefore, she didn't get a membership of the Order of the British Empire. However, in June, her commission as Assistant Section Officer was gazetted. In October 1946, Noor was Mentioned in Despatches. She was the third one of three Second World War FANY members who got the George Cross award. It is the highest award in Britain for gallantry.

A campaign was raised at the start of 2011 to pay for the construction of a bronze bust of her in central London, near her former home. The Princess Royal unveiled the bronze bust, which took place on 8 November 2012 in Gordon Square Gardens, Bloomsbury, London. She was commemorated on a stamp that the Royal Mail issued on 25 March 2014, a set of stamps about "Remarkable Lives". A campaign was launched in 2018 to have Noor represented on the £50 note's next version.

George Cross citation:

This award was announced in the London Gazette on 5 April 1949.

Blue plaque:

On 25 February 2019, the announcement said that she would be honoured with a blue plaque at 4 Taviton Street at her wartime London home in Bloomsbury. It is the house where she left on the final mission. She etched an address onto her bowl in person so that she could be identified. She is the first woman of South Asian descent to have a blue plaque that honours her in London. This blue plaque was unveiled at a virtual ceremony broadcast on the Facebook page of the English Heritage at 7 pm on Friday, 28 August 2020.


A play named Agent Madeleine premiered at the Ottawa Fringe Festival in 2018 and represented Noor's life and death. Puja Uppal played the role of Noor. These are the deviations from the facts that have been noted:

  • Noor had a relationship with Leo Marks, instead of an unknown SOE officer.
  • A single character, "Marcel de Faye" represented all prisoners like John Starr, Leon Faye, etc, in 84 Avenue Foch.
  • At 84 Avenue Foch, she is imprisoned until she is moved to Dachau. From this place, she is executed alone.
  •  Several times, her escape attempts failed. She tried once to escape from the bathroom window, but it was foiled by an air raid siren. In addition, she attempted to escape with the screwdriver, but it didn't work as a guard discovered her with it.
  •  She is the basis for Anna Sidiqui in Catalyst Theatre's The Invisible: Agents of Ungentlemanly Warfare.
  •   Jonathan Christenson gave the music & lyrics.



  • Tabrez Noorani & Zafar Hai were the two producers who obtained the film rights to the biography Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu in September 2012.
  •  The story of her life is seen in the film A Call to Spy. While the writer was Sarah Megan Thomas, the director of the film was Lydia Dean Pilcher. Radhika Apte played her character.
  •  In the 2021 live-action short film Liberté, she is the central character. It was shot at Beaulieu Palace House, the location she had trained for SOE.



Stacy Ericson, an American poet, posted a poem on 6 September 2010 on the Internet and it is known as "Resistance". The poem is the first one that is dedicated to Noor.

An American poet named Irfanulla Shariff posted a poem on 3rd March 2013 on the internet, and its name is "A Tribute To The Illuminated Woman of World War II". This poem is dedicated to Noor, and illustrates her life story.


This section requires extra citations for verification.

  • Adrishya, which is the second episode of the Indian anthology series, aired on Epic TV in 2014. This one is based on her adult life in a wartime organization till she died in Nazi Germany.
  •  A Man Called Intrepid, a 6-hour TV miniseries, is broadcast on NBC in the US and on CTV in Canada. David Niven played the role of the protagonist Sir William Stephenson whereas Barbara Hershe played the role of Noor.

Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story, which is a one-hour biographical docudrama aired in 2014 by PBS. Alex Kronemer and Michael Wolfe of Unity Productions Foundation produced it, whereas the director was Robert H. Gardner.

Netflix released "Churchill's Secret Agents The New Recruits" in 2018. In this show, Season 1, episode 4 features a summary of Noor's final mission with the SOE. Aurora Marion played Noor in "Spyfall, Part 2" on 5 January 2020. This one is the second episode of Doctor Who, series 12.


BBC Radio 4 in November 1980 broadcast a play where Patrice Chaplin wrote about Noor.

Another play, Knightsbridge Memorial about Noor, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as a Saturday Night Theatre production in November 1980.

The Bottom Line:

In this article, we have discussed all the details about Noor Inayat Khan, i.e. who she is, how her early life was, her contributions in different fields, the awards she got, her special works, and many more details. In the year 1958, an anonymous Dutch prisoner said that an SS officer named Wilhelm Ruppert cruelly beat Noor before she was shot from behind. The last word of Noor was reported as "Liberté". Noor's mother and three siblings survived her.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What was Noor Inayat Khan famous for?

Known as Noor-Un-Nissa Inayat Khan, this British spy served in the 2nd World War as the Secret Operations Executive. She was called Nora Baker, who has a codename Madeline. We should know that Noor was the first female wireless operator who was dropped into occupied France in order to assist the resistance as well as to send messages back to Britain.

Q. What did Noor Inayat Khan say before she died?

According to an anonymous Dutch prisoner in 1958, Wilhelm Ruppert, who was an SS officer, beat Noor cruelly, before Noor was shot from behind. The last word she used was "Liberté". However, her mother & three siblings survived her.

Q. How old was Noor Inayat when she died?

When she died, she was thirty years old. The lifespan of Noor Inayat was from 1914 to 1944.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.