The Independent London Newspaper
1st November 2014

Letters

Princess Anne unveils bust of forgotten wartime spy whose last word as she faced a firing squad was ‘Liberté’

    Princess Anne and Shrabani Basu at the unveiling of the Noor bronze

    Princess Anne and biographer Shrabani Basu at the unveiling of the bronze dedicated to the wartime heroine Noor Inayat Khan
     

    Noor Inayat Khan, and Irene Warner

    Noor Inayat Khan, and, right, Irene Warner, 91, who worked with Noor on a wireless training course in Edinburgh in 1941

    Published: 15 November, 2012
    by ALICE HUTTON

    IN 1943 an Indian princess became the first female radio operator to be dropped behind enemy lines in occupied France.

    With the country overrun by Nazi troops the danger was so great she had a life expectancy of just six weeks.

    But the “charismatic” tigress of a 30-year-old, code-named “Madeleine”, escaped the Gestapo time and time again, only to be betrayed, tortured, beaten and then shot dead in Dachau Concentration Camp in 1944. Her last word was “Liberté”.

    On Thursday, Princess Anne unveiled a bronze statue in memory of Noor Inayat Khan, the forgotten heroine of the Second World War, in Gordon Square Gardens, Bloomsbury, close to the house where she lived and from which she left on her last, doomed mission.

    Hundreds of people, including members of her family from the Netherlands and America, war veterans who had worked with her, former Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents and RAF pilots, MPs, peers and ambassadors, as well as royalty, packed out the square to pay their respects to the woman posthumously awarded the George Cross by Britain and the Croix de Guerre by France.

    Noor’s first cousin, Mahmood Khan van Goens Youskine, who had travelled from his home in the Netherlands along with his family for the occasion, told the New Journal: “We are very proud as well as deeply moved.

    “She had a kind of charisma and at the same time she was living in a world of ideals. The remarkable thing is how she transformed that sense of idealism into that extraordinary practical activity.”

    Born in Moscow to an Indian father and an American mother, Noor was a descendant of Tipu Sultan, the 18th-century ruler of Mysore.

    The family lived in London and moved to Paris when Noor was six. But in 1940, as Paris fell to occupation, Noor and her brother Vilayat returned to London to volunteer for the war effort. He joined the Navy and she signed up to the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force before being recruited by the SOE.

    In Edinburgh in 1941, while being trained to use Morse code, Noor met Irene Warner.
    Now 91, Mrs Warner, who attended the unveiling, said: “She was very shy, very quiet but always very kind and willing to help anybody.

    “It was after the war that somebody put a newspaper on my desk and there were banner headlines, ‘So-and-so awarded George Cross’. I couldn’t believe it was Noor, but she deserved it, oh yes.”

    With tears in her eyes, Mrs Warner continued: “It was horrible the way she died. She was raped then she was beaten and shot then thrown into a furnace. It doesn’t bear thinking about.”

    Princess Anne said after the unveiling: “I hope this bust will remind us to ask questions of who, why and what we can achieve in her memory.”

    Tribute was also paid by Shrabani Basu, biographer of Noor who chairs The Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust, which raised £60,000 for the bust.

    “As we observe Remembrance Week, we remember the bravery of all those who fell like Noor and those like her who have no grave,” she said.
    “We will not let their memories fade in the mist of time.”

    For more information, go to www.noormemorial.org/

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