Honour for Indian heroine in Churchill’s spy squad

On September 13, 1944, a British agent known as Madeleine was shot dead at Dachau concentration camp by her Nazi captors.

Despite being tortured by the Gestapo during 10 months of imprisonment, she had revealed nothing of use to her interrogators.

Her bravery and forbearance were all the more remarkable because Madeleine’s real name was Noor Inayat Khan, and she was the daughter of an Indian Muslim preacher and a devoted supporter of independence for her ancestral homeland.

She had joined Winston Churchill’s sabotage force the Special Operations Executive, which was instructed to “set Europe ablaze”, and was the first female radio operator sent into France.

Born in Moscow to an American mother, Noor had studied child psychology at the Sorbonne in Paris and became a children’s writer in the 1930s. After she was rejected by the Women’s Auxillary Air Force, her fluent French and training in radio transmitting were spotted by SOE officers.

Her spying role was so dangerous that Noor arrived in Paris with a life expectancy of just six weeks. But she lasted three months, running a cell of spies, frequently changing her appearance and alias until she was betrayed, aged 30, probably by the jealous girlfriend of a comrade.

It is a tale of great courage which has long been recognised in France, where there are two memorials and a ceremony is held each year to mark Noor’s death. But in Britain, the contribution of this Anglo-Indian heroine who gave her life to defeat Nazism has been forgotten.

That is about to change with the launch of a campaign to raise £100,000 ($200,000) to install a bronze bust of her in Gordon Square, central London. It would be the first memorial in Britain to either a Muslim or an Asian woman. The project has the backing of 34 MPs and prominent British Asians and £25,000 has so far been raised.

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