ON THE STREET | Noor Inayat Khan
Gordon Square, home to the Lamp and Owl has a new occupant. On 8th November 2012 HRH The Princess Royal dedicated a memorial to Noor Inayat Khan, a young Asian woman and second world War hero. Despite memorials dedicated to her in Paris and Dachau, Noor is barely known in the UK. Yet she has achieved a number of firsts.
Noor became the first radio operator to be parachuted into occupied Paris and her memorial will be the first dedicated to an Asian woman in the UK. It has been created thanks to the efforts of Shrabani Basu who wrote a biography of Noor entitled ‘Spy Princess’ back in 2006. The campaign for the memorial, sculpted by well known artist Karen Newman, has been supported by Valerie Vaz MP and the Vice-Chancellor of the University of London who gave permission for the bust to be installed in Gordon Square near the house where Noor lived.
In the dark days of 1940 the British created the ‘Special Operations Executive’ – a top secret espionage and sabotage unit designed to conduct guerrilla warfare at home in the event of invasion but primarily to aid the resistance movements across the Channel. Many brave men and women were parachuted into Northern France: some including Noor did not come back.
Some of us will have seen the film Charlotte Gray which was based on the exploits of various SOE’s female agents but to my knowledge Noor’s name is never mentioned despite the fact that she was just one of four such agents to be awarded the George Cross. Hopefully that omission will now be put to rights so please allow me to quote from her citation in fairly full detail.
Described as ‘Assistant Section Officer Nora INAYAT-KHAN’ she was “landed by Lysander aircraft on 16th June, 1943. During the weeks immediately following her arrival, the Gestapo made mass arrests in the Paris Resistance groups to which she had been detailed. She refused to abandon what had become the principal and most dangerous post in France and she remained at her post earning a posthumous Mention in Despatches. The Gestapo had a full description of her, but knew only her code name “Madeleine”. After 3 months she was betrayed to the Gestapo and taken to their H.Q. in the Avenue Foch. The Gestapo had asked her to co-operate, but she refused and gave them no information of any kind. She was imprisoned in one of the cells on the 5th floor of the Gestapo H.Q. and remained there for several weeks during which time she made two unsuccessful attempts atescape. She was the first agent to be sent to Germany. When interrogated by the KarlsruheGestapo, she refused to give any information whatsoever, either as to her work or hercolleagues. She was taken with three others to Dachau Camp on the 12th September, 1944.
On arrival, she was taken to the crematorium and shot. She displayed the most conspicuouscourage, both moral and physical over a period of more than 12 months.”
Noor was born in Bloomsbury hence the memorial being placed in Gordon Square. Shortly after her birth in 1917, the family moved to Paris where Noor studied Child Psychology at the Sorbonne and Music at the Paris Conservatory. She became a published writer of poetry and children’s stories and a radio contributor until the family fled France in 1940 following the outbreak of war.
I hope that all Birkbeck students go to visit our very special new neighbour.
NOTE: Stuart is a current student at Birkbeck. He has alos written for a number of noted legal journals and regulary writes for his own blog: stugarcia.wordpress.com