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UK marks centenary of Indian-origin WW II spy Noor Inayat Khan

PTI June 19, 2014 8:05 IST
London: The birth centenary year of Noor Inayat Khan, the famous Indian-origin World War II spy, was observed in the UK this week.

Popular English novelist and political commentator Frederick Forsyth was among the key guests at a special memorial event in London to celebrate the life of Noor, the great-great-great-grand-daughter of Tipu Sultan, who became the first female radio operator to be sent from Britain into occupied France.

“What is so remarkable about Noor Inayat Khan is that she owed us nothing; she didn't have to go,” said Forsyth, the well-known thriller writer behind books such as ‘The Day of the Jackal' and ‘The Odessa File' who compared her to the 18th century ruler, Tipu Sultan, known as the ‘Tiger of Mysore'.  

“When it came to being recruited for the SOE (Special Operations Executive), she could have said ‘thank you but no'...but she volunteered. There must be something of the old tiger in her genes. It is recorded that she fought like a tigress...Noor absolutely did not die for nothing.  “She is an amazement, a remarkable and extraordinarily brave woman who did what she did for a country to which she owed nothing,” Forsyth said.

The memorial event was organised by the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust set up by Shrabani Basu - author of the World War II heroine's biography ‘Spy Princess'.  It coincided with the dates of June 16-17, 1943, when Noor - under her codename Madeleine - was flown to the landing ground in Northern France.

“She combined the rational side of her personality with her hatred of injustice and became one of our greatest heroines. My hope is that she would have gone back to that inner life that sustained her,” said Christine Crawley, a Labour party politician who has campaigned for the contribution of women agents in the war to be commemorated.

The SOE was an underground force established in Britain in 1940 by war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill to “set Europe ablaze”.

It recruited men and women to launch a guerilla war against Hitler's forces.

Noor, born in September 1914 to an Indian Muslim father and an American mother, grew up in Britain and France.  Despite her pacifist views, she decided to join the war effort to defeat the Nazis and was eventually captured.  In spite of being repeatedly tortured and interrogated, she revealed nothing and was executed by an SS officer on September 13, 1944, at Dachau concentration camp at the age of 30.

She was later awarded the George Cross, the highest civilian decoration in the UK, in recognition of her bravery.  A bust in Noor's memory now stands at Gordon Square in central London, a stone's throw from the home she briefly lived in.