Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

November 19, 2012

Tribute to a spy princess

When Ada Blackjack returned from the Arctic, the only survivor of an ill-fated expedition, she was uncomfortable being called a hero. “Brave?” Ada would say whenever people would praise her courage. “I don’t know about that. But I would never give up hope while I’m still alive.”

A number of real-life female spies inspired Velva Jean’s harrowing and heroic journey as a secret agent in Becoming Clementine. One of them was a beautiful and courageous Indian princess named Noor Inayat Khan.

On November 8, seven decades after her death, a statue was unveiled in London. The statue bears tribute to the courageous Princess Khan– Britain’s only female Muslim war heroine– who was the first woman radio operator dropped into France by the SOE.

She was the descendant of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of Mysore. Her father was Indian, her mother American. Noor Inayat Khan grew up in luxury and comfort, playing the harp and writing stories. She later studied child psychology at the Sorbonne.

At the end of 1940, she and her family fled France (escaping to England by boat) before the government surrendered to Germany. Khan joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a wireless operator, and was recruited by the SOE in 1942. She was sent back to Paris a year later. There, under the codename Madeleine, she sent vital messages to London while trying to evade the Germans. In October 1943, she was arrested and tortured, but she refused to talk. In September 1944, at Dachau, she was executed by the SS. She was thirty.

England’s Princess Royal dedicated the statue at Gordons Square not far from the house where Noor was living when she left on her last mission. Sir David Richards, the Chief of Defence Staff, said at the November 8 ceremony, “We owe our freedom to women like Noor Inayat Khan.”

In an era when most women were expected to stay at home and tend to the house and the children, women like Noor Inayat Khan were ahead of their time. Standing in Gordons Square, Princess Anne said she hoped the new statue will “remind people to ask: Who was she? Why is she here? And what can we achieve in her memory?”

Noor, like the thousands of other women who spied in World War II, simply did what she had to do in a terrible time under extraordinary circumstances. She would probably have shared Ada Blackjack’s discomfort at being called brave. Her last word, as the German firing squad raised their weapons, was simple and unyielding: Liberte.

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.