There are some who are celebrated worldwide for their achievements and then there are those who go unnoticed. One such unsung hero is Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan.
In a city controlled by Nazi, her life expectancy was merely six weeks. Noor Inayat Khan was an unlikely secret agent. Her courage and determination would earn her the George Cross, one of only three awarded to women in the Second World War and Croix de Guerre, with a gold star by France.
Actor Radhika Apte is portraying the role of the Second World War heroine Noor Inayat Khan in her Hollywood film Liberte: A Call to Spy. She unveiled her first look from the movie on Instagram and shared a collage of her alongside the picture of Noor Inayat Khan, a spy during the Second World War.
The film also stars Sarah Megan Thomas. Oscar-nominated director Lydia Dean Pilcher has helmed the film. The forthcoming film is based on true incidents set 75 years ago in the Second World War when Winston Churchill created a spy organisation called Special Operations Executive (SOE) to disturb the Nazi war machine. This was the first time women were recruited for the secret services. The newly created spy organisation recruited female leads, Vera Atkins (Stana Katic) who later hires two unusual candidates: Virginia Hall (Sarah Megan Thomson), and Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Apte). This is a movie about three diverse women in Churchill’s secret army and how they resisted Hitler. The movie becomes a sisterhood of women, who were not trained soldiers or spies but end up doing extraordinarily brave things and fighting for liberty. The film was premiered at the Edinburg Film Festival.
The woman behind codename: Madeleine
Descended from Indian royalty, Noor was born in Moscow in 1914 to Indian father and an American mother. Noor was academically gifted, writing poetry and stories and she would later go on to child psychology at the Sorbonne. By the age of 25, her book Twenty Jataka Tales had been published in France, Britain and America.
Noor was brought up in Paris and the family later moved to London when Paris was occupied by Germans in 1940. Having reached the relative safety of England, Noor joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) to be trained as a wireless operator choosing the name Nora Baker to better fit with her surroundings. Noor was later recruited for F (France) section of the Special Operations Executive, a secret organisation started by Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
She had worked hard to overcome her fear during combat training and improved her ability to translate Morse code but colleagues in her intelligence network still had a doubt. They also questioned whether she had the right sensibility for the job, having been raised under Sufism, “Not overburdened with brains but has worked hard and shown keenness, apart from a dislike of the security side of the course,” a superior officer, Col Frank Spooner, wrote in her file. Noor became the first female radio operator to be flown under-cover to Nazi-occupied France where she would work under the name of Jeanne-Marie Renier, posing as a children’s nurse. Her code name was ‘Madeleine’.
Within 10 days of her arrival, all other British agents in Noor’s network had been arrested. The SOE wanted her to return to Britain, but realising her significance she refused, saying she would try and rebuild the network on her own.
She ended up doing the work of six radio operators and moved constantly to evade detection and dyed her hair blonde to avoid being recognised. Her work became crucial to the war effort. Her transmission became the only links between the agents around the Paris area and London.
The bitter irony of her eventual capture was that it was an act of betrayal rather than the diligence of the German forces. Just as she was about to leave England in 1943 she was captured by the Gestapo. When Noor was captured, she was reported to have put up such a fight that the man arresting her threatened to shoot her. She tried to escape but was captured and sent to a German prison in Pforzheim, on the edge of Black Forest, where she was chained in solitary confinement, was given a very small amount of food and was beaten ruthlessly.
On September 12 1944, she was sent to Dachau concentration camp and tortured there. She and three S.O.E women were executed the next day. She was 30. The last word she reportedly said before being executed at Dachau- “Liberte”.