Muslim ‘Spy Princess’ Honoured in London

Anne, Queen Elizabeth II’s daughter, unveiled the bronze bust in central London’s Gordon Square Gardens, in honour of Khan, the daughter of an Indian noble.

The first female wireless operator sent to occupied France, the message interceptor was captured, tortured and shot dead aged 30 at the Dachau concentration camp in September 1944.

She was posthumously awarded the George Cross and is one of only four women to have received Britain’s highest non-combat gallantry award.

The Guardian described Khan as Britain’s only female Muslim war heroine, and called the bust of her the first stand-alone memorial to an Asian woman in the country.

The statue of Noor Inayat Khan shortly after it was unveiled in a ceremony in Gordon Square Gardens, central London. Noor Inayat Khan worked as a radio operator for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force before being recruited by the Special Operations Executive as an agent, working behind enemy lines in Paris, France. Britain’s Princess Anne looks on. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL

Stories like the ‘spy princess’ “are very remarkable stories in their own right, but they do have a real connection to be made in our modern era,” Anne said.

“I hope too it will remind people and get many more people to ask the question who she was, why she’s here and what we could achieve in her memory.”

Gordon Square Gardens is close to where Khan lived on Taviton Street and where she played as a child.

Khan was born into a princely Indian Sufi family and was descended from Tipu Sultan, the 18th-century ruler of Mysore.

She was born on January 1, 1914, in Moscow to her Indian father and an American mother. Her infancy was spent in London before the family moved to Paris. She spoke fluent French and began a career as a children’s writer.

Escaping to England by boat before the French surrender to Nazi Germany in 1940, she joined the British military as a wireless operator and was recruited by the Special Operations Executive elite spy squad in 1942.

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She was deployed to France in June 1943 and worked in the resistance, sending intercepted radio messages back to Britain for as long as possible.

Her superiors urged her to return across the Channel but she carried on and singlehandedly ran a network of spies across Paris for three more months as her team was gradually captured by the Gestapo.

She was eventually betrayed and arrested, but refused to divulge any information despite 10 months of torture, beatings and starvation.

She was transferred to Dachau in southern Germany, where she was executed.

Wing Commander Leonard Ratcliff, who knew Khan by her codename Madeleine and dropped spies into France, told AFP: “She was an incredibly brave girl and it was a tragedy that she was betrayed by one of her own colleagues and she had a life of misery, tortured and in chains and eventually shot.

“She never gave away any of her secrets and so we are delighted to be here today to revere her.”

Also see: Muslims Who Saved Jews from Hitler