Muslim World War II Hero Noor Inayat Khan Honoured28 Aug 2020
Noor Inayat Khan, Britain’s “first Muslim war heroine in Europe” has been honoured after 75 years. Khan, who served in the Special Operations Executive, operated as a British agent in the Nazi-occupied France where she was captured by the Gestapo and executed.
In recognition of Khan’s heroism, her family home on Taviton Street in Bloomsbury has been adorned with a blue plaque by English Heritage.
In addition to being the first Muslim war heroine to be honoured, Khan is also the first woman of Indian heritage to win a plaque honour.
“She was an unlikely spy”
Noor Inayat Khan was born in Moscow in 1914. Early in her childhood, her family moved to London where they took residence in Bloomsbury.
The family subsequently moved to France following the death of her father. However, the Nazi invasion of France forced the family to leave the country in 1940. Upon returning to Britain, Khan joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and trained as a radio operator.
As a Sufi pacifist, it was an unlikely career path for her.
In 1943, Khan was recruited by the Special Operations Executive and sent to France as an undercover radio operator under the codename “Madeline”.
Unfortunately, a few months after her deployment, she was captured by the Gestapo secret police and interrogated, refusing to cooperate.
Although she managed to escape, she was recaptured again. During her 10-month captivity during which the Gestapo continued to interrogate her, she managed to etch the address of her Bloomsbury home to her bowl, allowing other prisoners to identify her.
After 10 months, she was taken to the Dachau concentration camp where she was executed alongside three other women.
She was posthumously awarded the George Cross, the highest civilian decoration.
“Her vision of unity and freedom is more important than ever”
Khan’s plaque will be unveiled by English Heritage at her Bloomsbury home on Friday 19:00, with the ceremony to be broadcast virtually.
Speaking ahead of the unveiling, Khan’s biographer, Shrabani Basu said that it is fitting that she is the first woman of Indian origin to be remembered with a blue plaque, expressing hope that her story would inspire generations ahead.
“As a Sufi she believed in non-violence and religious harmony. Yet when her adopted country needed her, she unhesitatingly gave her life in the fight against fascism,” said Basu.
English Heritage has also appealed for more female suggestions to be honoured with plaques. It came after it acknowledged that women’s representation is still “unacceptably low”, with only 14% of the 950 plaques in London representing women.