[ by Charles Cameron — east, west, music, espionage, pacifism, war, the Resistance, the Nazis, Dachau, and exceptional gallantry ]
A Muslim woman — born in Moscow of princely Indian paternal descent, her mother an American from Albuquerque, her father a great North Indian classical musician and Sufi master of pacifist leanings…
Noor Inayat Khan was a student of Western classical music in pre-War Paris under the great Nadia Boulanger, escaped the oncoming Nazis and made it across the channel to England, where she told a British officer during a recruitment interview that she would indeed support Indian independence from Britain after the war — but that defeating Hitler took precedence and she would gladly fight for the British…
She thus became the first female radio operator sent by the British Special Operations Executive into Nazi-occupied France, where she worked courageously as a vital link between the French Resistance and Churchill‘s London until she was finally betrayed, imprisoned, and finally executed by firing squad in Dachau.
After the war, the British awarded her the highest civilian award for bravery, the George Cross, and France the Croix de Guerre.
Yesterday’s Guardian reports:
On Thursday afternoon, in a corner of Bloomsbury, Princess Anne unveiled Britain’s first memorial to an Asian woman. The bust is of Noor Inayat Khan, a woman who was a pioneer in so many things: an Indian princess who was also a gifted harpist; a Sufi who wrote Buddhist fables for children; an anti-imperialist who spied for the British empire – and the first female radio operator sent into Nazi-occupied France.
Her Twenty Jataka Tales is available here.
Shrabani Basu‘s biography of Noor Inayat Khan is here.
I raise a virtual toast to Noor Inayat Khan.
h/t David Foster at Chicago Boyz.