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Princess Royal unveils memorial to Noor Inayat Khan

Princess Anne has unveiled a memorial to World War 2 Indo-American spy Noor Inayat Khan in London’s Gordon Square, some 68 years after the heroine was killed at the hands of the Nazis.

Noor is the first woman of South Asian heritage to receive a permanent monument in Britain.

A distinguished gathering of more than 400 dignitaries, including peers, MP’s, diplomats and military veterans from around the world attended the unveiling Thursday 08 November, to honour the British Special Operations Executive agent who died aged just 30.

Noor is said to have had a special affection for Gordon Square, playing with her siblings there, dreaming about fairies and sitting in the park for long hours reading.

Born in 1914 in Moscow, Noor was of royal descent.  

Her father, the famed Sufi scholar and classical musician Hazrat Inayat Khan, was the great grandson of Tipu Sultan, the legendary 18th century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore.

The eldest of four children, Noor was raised in Paris and was a gifted student and musician.  

Soon after the outbreak of World War 2, the family fled Paris, settling in the vicinity of Gordon Square.

Despite her opposition to British imperialism, the shy, quiet Noor was an even more dedicated opponent of  fascism, first enlisting in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force before being recruited by the SOE, the famed espionage agency, often referred to as ‘Churchill’s Secret Army’.

At the age of 29, Noor was parachuted into France, becoming the first woman radio operator behind enemy lines.  

Things however, didn’t go according to plan and Noor was forced to move frequently around Paris, dodging the Gestapo but continuing to maintain communications between the French Resistance and their supporters in Britain.

After three months on the run, Noor was betrayed and sent to the infamous Dacahu Concentration Camp where, as an Allied spy, she was beaten and tortured mercilessly.  

Before she was killed by her captors in September 1944, Noor’s final utterance was “Liberte”.  She was one of just three women to receive the George Cross for bravery during the war.

The bust of this Princess-turned-fearless spy was the culmination of a two-year campaign headed by Shrabani Basu, a journalist and historian who wrote a biography of Noor, ‘Spy Princess: the Life of Noor Inayat Khan’.  

Speaking after the unveiling, Basu said: “Today in the presence of Your Royal Highness, we have packed this square to remember a heroine of the war, a young woman of Indian origin, who unhesitatingly gave her life for Britain in the fight against Fascism.”
 
“Noor was proud of her Indian heritage but she felt British and French at the same time. She wanted to be a citizen of the world and build bridges between nations.
 
“As we observe Remembrance Week, the world will watch again as we remember the bravery of all those who fell like Noor and those like her who have no grave. We will not let their memories fade in the mist of time.”  

Ms Basu’s campaign raised more than £60,000 for the memorial sculpture – created by London-based artist Karen Newman – with backing from some prominent British Asians, including Valerie Vaz MP, filmmaker Gurindher Chadha and rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti.  

Basu added: said: She said: “I think it is really important for future generations to know about Noor. She crossed so many boundaries, between Britain and India, between non-violence and her belief that the Nazis had to be defeated. It would be nice to think that children will know about this woman and her courage.”

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