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Khan was a wartime British secret agent of Indian descent who was the first female radio operator sent into Nazi-occupied France by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). She was arrested and eventually executed by the Gestapo.
Noor Inayat Khan was born on New Year’s Day 1914 in Moscow to an Indian father and an American mother. She was a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century Muslim ruler of Mysore. Khan’s father was a musician and Sufi teacher. He moved his family first to London and then to Paris, where Khan was educated and later worked writing childrens’ stories. Khan escaped to England after the fall of France and in November 1940 she joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). In late 1942, she was recruited to join SOE as a radio operator. Although some of those who trained her were unsure about her suitability, in June 1943 she was flown to France to become the radio operator for the ‘Prosper’ resistance network in Paris, with the codename ‘Madeleine’. Many members of the network were arrested shortly afterwards 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.
In October, Khan was betrayed by a Frenchwoman and arrested by the Gestapo. 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.