“Liberté” were reportedly the last words uttered by Noor Inayat Khan according to eyewitnesses. She was killed at Dachau concentration camp in September 1944. Liberty was something she had been fighting for since enlisting with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) four years earlier.
Noor was born on the 2nd January 1914 in Moscow. The daughter of Hazrat Inayat Khan and Ameena Begum, she was of Indian and American descent and had three younger siblings. The family settled in France where she grew up to study at the Sorbonne and became a children’s writer. Her life was turned upside down when the Nazis invaded France in 1940. Her family fled to England and she joined the WAAF. In 1942 she was approached by the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a secret organisation who trained recruits to become agents in enemy territory. Noor, as an educated and fluent French speaker, was an ideal candidate for work in occupied France. She undertook intensive training to become a wireless operator, which the SOE were in dire need of.
The next year Noor, under the codename Madeleine, went into France. The survival rate for wireless operators was abysmal, with most discovered within 6 weeks. Things got off to a terrible start as the pre-existing undercover network Prosper crumbled within weeks of her arrival. It didn’t take long for the Gestapo to learn of ‘Madeleine’ but she expertly evaded them for nearly four months. Keeping the lines of communication open between the resistance and London, Noor was imperative to the SOE mission, although she made some mistakes including keeping copies of messages.
Tragically Noor was betrayed. This betrayal led to her capture and consequent imprisonment by the Gestapo. Noor didn’t stop resisting and made a few escape attempts. Eventually chained and tortured, this brave woman continued to resist the enemy and wouldn’t give them the information they sought. In September 1944 she was sent to Dachau where she was murdered by the Nazis.
Noor was an incredibly courageous woman, who until the bitter end fought for liberty. Awarded the Croix de Guerre with Gold Star and George Cross in honor of her bravery, Noor is a person we owe a great deal of thanks.
ODNB: Khan, Noor-un-Nisa Inayat by Deborah E. Van Seters
BBC History: Noor Inayat Khan https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/inayat_khan_noor.shtml
BBC History: SOE https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/soe_01.shtml
English Heritage: Noor Inayat Khan https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/noor-inayat-khan/
SOE, National Army Museum: https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/SOE
Rejected Princesses: Noor Inayat Khan https://www.rejectedprincesses.com/princesses/noor-inayat-khan
Wikipedia: Noor Inayat Khan, Vera Atkins, Ameena Begum, SOE,