Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Princess who became a spy - Noor Inayat Khan

Noor was born in Moscow of a Muslim Indian father (Hazrat Inayat Khan) and an American mother (Ora Meena Ray Baker Noor), was a Sufi Muslim Princess (she was a descendant of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore). She was the eldest of four children. Moving to France shortly after her birth, in the wake of the First World War the family left for London in 1914, and returned to their Paris home only in 1920. The quiet and dreamy Noor studied music under the famous Nadia Boulanger, and was also very fond of writing poetry and children's stories. She became a regular contributer in children's magazines and published the book 'Twenty Jataka Tales'. The family left Paris again only in 1940, after the outbreak of war. [16/17 June]] 1943, cryptonymed 'Madeleine'/W/T operator 'Nurse' she was flown to landing ground B/20A 'Indigestion' on a night landing double Lysander operation, code named Teacher/Nurse/Chaplain/Monk. She traveled to Paris and together with two other women (Diana Rowden, code named Paulette/Chaplain, and Cecily Lefort, code named Alice/Teacher) joined the Physician network led by Francis Suttill code named Prosper. Over the next month and a half, a number of Physician network radio operators were arrested by the Sicherheitsdienst, but in spite of the dangers, Noor chose to remain and continue transmitting as the last essential link between London and Paris. Owing to betrayals alleged to both Henri Dericourt and Renée Garry, in October 1943 the SD finally arrested Inayat Khan and interrogated her at the SD Headquarters in Paris. She was not tortured but her interrogation lasted over a month. During that time, she attempted escape twice. Although Inayat Khan would not reveal any information about her activities under interrogation, the SD did find her notebooks which apparently contained all the messages that she had sent and received as an SOE operative. They were therefore easily able to read all this and subsequently imitated her in communication with London, who failed to investigate properly anomalies in the transmissions on her radio plans 'Nurse' subsequently 'Nurse Red' which indicated they were operating under enemy control. This link enabled the Germans to seize at their parachute landing three more agents sent to France.
She was locked up in the womens section of the civil prison at Pforzheim where, as a 'very dangerous' prisoner, she was kept in chains, her hands and her feet chained together, with another chain connecting hands to feet, unable to feed or clean herself. She was kept in solitary confinement separated from the rest of the prison by two sets of iron gates. The governor of the prison, interviewed years later by Jean Overton Fuller, "said he thought the tranquility did her good."

Some Frenchwomen sent to the prison as political prisoners managed to communicate with 'Nora Baker', as Noor was calling herself. By this time it was summer and Noor's messages noted the Fourth of July and Bastille Day. The last words from her, in a shaky hand, were "I am leaving". It was the 11th September 1944.
That night, almost ten months after she had been locked up, she was taken by the Gestapo to Karlsruhe and from there, along with three other women, to Dachau, about 200 miles away.
The other three women were also F Section agents, Madeleine Damerment, Elaine Plewman and Yolande Beekman.
The two men, named Wassmer and Ott, who escorted the four women were the same two who had brought four other women to the camp at Natzweiler, two months previously, in the July.
They arrived at Dachau around midnight and they walked up the hill from the station to the camp, where they were locked up separately overnight, and in the early morning they were taken to a spot strewn with sand, stained with blood and told to kneel down.
They knelt in pairs, holding hands, as an SS man came up and shot them from behind............
Noor was 30 years old.

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