Noor Inayat Khan: Statue of British-Indian agent is unveiled

  • Published
Statue of Noor Inayat Khan in London's Gordon Square Gardens
Image caption,
The sculpture campaign has been described by British PM David Cameron as a tribute to a young Muslim woman who fought against racism and oppression

A bust has been unveiled in London later to commemorate British-Indian agent Noor Inayat Khan, who worked in France during WWII before being tortured and shot by the Germans.

Members of her family attended the unveiling, which was carried out by Princess Anne.

It was also attended by ex-agents, and RAF men who flew them to France.

It is the culmination of a two-year campaign by her admirers to get the bust erected.

Ms Khan was was posthumously awarded the George Cross for her work in France and for revealing nothing of use to her interrogators despite being tortured by the Gestapo for 10 months.

Gestapo arrests

On 13 September 1944, Ms Khan - code named Madeleine - was shot dead at Dachau concentration camp.

Such bravery was in her family: she is a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, the renowned Tiger of Mysore who refused to submit to British rule and who was killed in battle in 1799.

Although she carried a passport of an imperial subject, she had no innate loyalty to Britain. But she did have a strong aversion to fascism.

A fluent French speaker, Ms Khan joined Britain's sabotage force, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and became the first female radio operator sent into France in 1943, with the famous instruction to "set Europe ablaze".

The role was so dangerous that she arrived in Paris with a life expectancy of just six weeks.

Shrabani Basu, founder of the Noor Memorial Trust and author of her biography, Spy Princess, told the BBC that she became interested in Ms Khan's story from "pure curiosity" about how an Indian woman could have been involved in the theatre of war in Europe.

"As I started researching her life, I realised she was a Sufi who believed in non-violence and religious harmony and had yet volunteered to be in the frontline," she said.

"She was the proud descendant of a ruler who had died fighting the British, her own father was a strong nationalist, and Noor was a great admirer of [Indian independence leaders] Nehru and Gandhi.

"Though she believed firmly in Indian independence, she was focused and knew that it was important to fight the war against fascism."

Ms Khan was the last essential link with London after mass arrests by the Gestapo destroyed the SOE's spy network in Paris.

As her spy circuit collapsed, her commanders urged her to return, but she refused to abandon her French comrades without communications.

For three months, she single-handedly ran a cell of agents across Paris, frequently changing her appearance and name until she was eventually captured.

The sculpture has been installed in Gordon Square Gardens on land owned by the University of London, close to the Bloomsbury house where Ms Khan lived as a child in 1914 and where she returned while training for the SOE during World War II.

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