Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944), another SOE dame, is remembered for being the first female radio operator sent into occupied France during WWII, unfortunately, she is also, incorrectly, remembered for being a princess.
Noor has an interesting family lineage in that her father, Hazrat Khan, was descended from a defunct Muslim royal line and was also the founder of the Sufi Order International. In case you were wondering, Sufism is a practice of Islamic Mysticism. Not to be outdone, Noor’s mother, Ora Noor, was an American from new Mexico and sister to Pierre Bernard, an early American yogi instructor/scholar and all-around shady character.
Noor was better traveled than most adults by a young age. She was born in Russia and spent her early years in England before the family finally settled in France.
Noor’s father passed away when Noor was just 13. As the eldest she assumed many familial responsibilities. Noor did however find it in her to study psychology at the Sorbonne and become an accomplished musician. Noor had a career in writing poetry and children’s books and contributed her talents to French radio. All of this was brought short when the family fled France for England before the outbreak of WWII.
Despite her Sufi upbringing, which emphasizes no small amount pacifism, Noor was determined lend her efforts to defeating Nazi Germany. She joined the Women’s Auxilliary Air Force in 1940 where she learned to become a wireless operator. After a year of mind-numbing work, Noor requested a transfer to the SOE where she joined the now infamous F-Section. It was here in the SOE that Noor adopted the name Nora Baker.
Noor had a mixed track record with the group. Her superiors found her inconsistent and unsuitable for service, but her much needed fluency in French and her skills in wireless operations made it necessary to send her into France.
Noor, codename “Madeleine”, was dropped into France in June 1943. She made her way to Paris and went to work. Within a very short period of time, nearly all the wireless operators in the area were captured. Despite being offered passage back to England, Noor refused to leave her post and continued transmitting while ping-ponging about the area to avoid capture. Dispatches from other officers comment on her critical and “excellent work”.
By October 1943, the gig was up. Noor was either betrayed by a suspected double agent within SOE’s Paris ranks or this same person’s sister who had lost the affections of a boyfriend to Noor and retaliated by ratting Noor out to the Nazi SS. Noor was arrested and put up one hell of a fight. Her captors were so disarmed by the former artist’s volatile reaction, that they labeled her an “extremely dangerous prisoner”.
Noor returned the favor by escaping. Twice. Never once giving up any of her intelligence. Unfortunately, the Gestapo found copies of Noor’s coded messages, and while the codes were unbroken, they continued transmitting to the SOE posing as Noor. Unfortunately, the SOE did not follow up on the inconsistencies in these false messages. The SOE sent in additional agents, all whom were captured.
After a final escape attempt in November 1943, and after refusing to sign a paper agreeing no further escape attempts (I know, laughable, did the Gestapo really think she would ever sign such a thing?), Noor was sent to Germany as a “Nacht und Nebel” prisoner. This meant solitary confinement. All matters pertaining to Noor were kept tightly under wraps. Noor was kept in shackles and chains 24 hours a day. A prison director testified after the war that the woman the SOE found so unsuitable maintained a policy of complete noncooperation.
In September 1944, Noor and three other female operatives were moved to the Dachau Concentration Camp. On September 13, 1944, Noor and the three women were executed with a single shot to the head. Another prisoner who witnessed the event claimed Noor was savagely beaten by prison guards prior to execution and that her final word was “Liberté”.
A plaque at the Dachau camp commemorates the execution.
Events in Noor’s life were borrowed, like many other female agents, for the fictional character of Charlotte Gray. Also, numerous books and articles have been published about Noor…all referring to her as the “Princess Spy”.
As if this dame needed a lame and irrelevant title such as “Princess” to make her life more amazing.