Noor Inayat Khan

Inspirational Camdeners: Noor Inayat Khan

Courageous and trailblazing, Noor Inayat Khan was the first woman spy to be dropped behind enemy lines in France during the Second World War

Noor Inayat Khan, 1914 – 1944 

Khan was born in Moscow in 1914, the daughter of an Indian Muslim father, who founded the International Sufi Movement, and an American mother. They moved to Camden shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, staying here until they moved to France in 1920. After attending the University of Paris, known as The Sorbonne, Kahn began a career in poetry and writing for children.  

When German forces invaded France in 1940 her family fled, via southern France to England, arriving back in Bloomsbury and living in Taviton Street. Khan and her family were pacifists but determined to help in bringing down Nazism, so she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and trained as a radio operator. In 1943, she was recruited by the Special Operations Executive as a radio operator and spy. In June she became the first woman to be dropped behind enemy lines in France as a radio operator, a highly dangerous job.  

Noor Inayat-Khan, on holiday in the early 1920s (Image: Shrabani Basu/PA Wire)
Noor Inayat-Khan, on holiday in the early 1920s (Image: Shrabani Basu/PA Wire)

Khan’s codename was ‘Madeleine’ and she soon became known to the German forces in Paris. She evaded capture, and continued to transmit essential messages for months before being betrayed. In October she was captured, sent to Germany, imprisoned, tortured and kept chained in her cell for 10 months. Despite this she refused to give any information to her captors. She was then transported to Dachau Concentration Camp and executed there on 13th September 1944.  

Khan was posthumously awarded the French Croix Du Guerre, with silver star and the George Cross; the highest award for civilians of the British honours system awarded "for acts of the greatest heroism or for most conspicuous courage in circumstance of extreme danger".  

Noor Inayat Khan was a courageous, selfless and extraordinary woman who broke down barriers of race, religion and gender to fight against Nazism.  

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