Code Name: “Madeline”
Noor Inayat Khan, was technically a Princess. She was the eldest of four children, was born on New Year's Day 1914 in Moscow. Her father was a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century Muslim ruler of Mysore, Tipu, India. (Sultan, called the Tiger of Mysore, is known for his valiant acts in several wars and the sacrifices he made to save his land from foreign invaders. He is remembered for saving Deccan India from the British for a long period of time. He was the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore from 1782 to 1799.) Khan's father was a musician and Sufi teacher. Her mother, Pirani Ameena Begum (born Ora Ray Baker), was an American from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who met Inayat Khan during his travels in the United States.
In 1914, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, the family left Russia to live in London Where Khan was educated and later wrote children's’ stories and poetry. As a young girl she was dreamy, quiet, shy and sensitive. She studied child psychology at the Sorbonne and music at the Paris Conservatory under Nadia Boulanger, composing music for harp and piano.
She often used the pen name Nora Baker and was a regular contributor to children’s magazines In 1920 they moved to France, settling in Suresnes, near Paris. When her father died in 1927, Noor assumed full responsibility for the family, her grief stricken mother and three siblings. In 1939 she published a book, Twenty Jataka Tales.
Although influenced by the pacifist teachings of her Sufi father, when the war broke out, she wanted to do something meaningful in the resistance. In 1940 she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), where she was an Aircraft woman 2nd class, and received training as a wireless operator. She was assigned to a bomber training school in 1941. She was bored and applied for a commission. In 1942 she was assigned a position as a Special Operations Executive (SOE) where she served as a wireless operator in occupied territory.
In June 1943 she was flown to France to become the radio operator for the 'Prosper' resistance network in Paris, with the codename 'Madeleine'. Khan's mission would be an especially dangerous one. So successful had female couriers been that the decision was made to use them as wireless operators as well, which was even more dangerous work, probably the most dangerous work of all. The job of the operator was to maintain a link between the circuit in the field and London, sending and receiving messages about planned sabotage operations or about where arms were needed for resistance fighters. Without such communication it was almost impossible for any resistance strategy to be coordinated, but the operators were highly vulnerable to detection. Many members of the network were arrested, but she chose to remain in France and spent the summer moving from place to place, trying to send messages back to London while avoiding capture.
Hiding themselves as best they could, with aerials strung up in attics or disguised as washing lines, they tapped out Morse Code on the key of transmitters, and would often wait hours for a reply while alone waiting for a signal in reply saying the messages were received. If they stayed on the air transmitting for more than 20 minutes, their signals were likely to be picked up by the enemy, and detection vans would trace the source of these suspect signals. When the operator moved location, the bulky transmitter had to be carried, sometimes concealed in a suitcase or in a bundle of firewood. If stopped and searched, the operator would have no cover story to explain the transmitter. In 1943, an operator's life expectancy was six weeks.
Noor was betrayed by a French double agent and arrested by the Gestapo, in October, 1943. She had unwisely kept copies of all her secret signals and the Germans were able to use her radio to trick London into sending new agents - straight into the hands of the waiting Gestapo. Khan escaped from prison but was recaptured a few hours later. In November 1943, she was sent to Pforzheim prison in Germany where she was kept in chains and in solitary confinement. Despite repeated torture, she refused to reveal any information. In September 1944, Khan and three other female SOE agents were transferred to Dachau concentration camp where on 13 September they were shot.
For her courage, Noor Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross in 1949. The George Cross is the second highest award of the United Kingdom honors system. It is awarded "for acts of the greatest heroism or for most conspicuous courage in circumstance of extreme danger."