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Noor Inayat Khan

I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war. It would help to build a bridge between English and the Indians.”

The prophetic words of Noor Inayat Khan came true, but little did she know that she would be the one winning high honors in relation to her work during World War II.  Inayat Khan was not only a British special agent and spy but also the very first female wireless radio operator to be sent into France during the German occupation.

In Moscow on New Year’s Day 1914 the world received Noor Inayat Khan, the daughter of Indian royalty Hazrat Inayat Khan and American Ora Meena Ray Baker.  Her father was actually a descendent of Tipu Sultan, a ruler of Mysore in the 18th century, so references to her as Princess Noor are not too far off.  Inayat Khan was the oldest of four children.

Shortly before World War I, the Khan family left Russia and relocated in London for a few years.  In 1920, the family then moved to France.  Seven years later, her father died leaving Noor with an increased devotion and responsibility for her mother and siblings.  It was in France that Inayat Khan began her career writing children’s stories and poetry.  In fact, her book Twenty Jakata Tales was published in 1939.

The family remained in France until 1940.  When the country became inundated with Nazi troops, the Inayat Khan family fled to London by sea.  It was that same year, despite her deep pacifist beliefs, that Noor decided to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) to help defeat the Nazi regime.  Because she was an Aircraftwoman 2nd Class she was trained as a wireless operator. 

Inayat Khan was originally posted to a bomber training school, where she found her work boring and unfulfilling thus applied for a commission in June of 1941.  Eventually she was recruited to the F Section of the Special Operations Executive.  Shortly thereafter, in February of 1943, Inayat Khan was assigned to the Air Ministry, Directorate of Air Intelligence and the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY).  She was also relocated to Wanborough Manor among several other training schools.  During this period of training Noor Inayat Khan adopted the cover name of Nora Baker.

Despite her incomplete training and mixed thoughts on her preparedness for secret warfare, Inayat Khan was flown to a part of Northern France known as “Indigestion” as an assistant special agent on the 16th of June, 1943.  It was likely due to her competent wireless operation and fluency in French that solidified the decision for her superiors.  Noor was given the cryptonym Madeleine/W/T operator Nurse and the cover identity of Jeanne-Marie Regnier.

Henri Dericourt, who is thought to have been a double agent for the Nazis, met Inayat Khan in France upon her arrival.  She traveled with two other women, Cecily Lefort (Alice/Teacher) and Diana Rowden (Paulette/Chaplain).  All three women joined the Physician Network which was led by Francis Suttill under the code name Prosper.

Over the first month and a half that Inayat Khan was in France, all other Physician Network radio operators were arrested by the SD (Sicherheitsdienst).  Noor then became the last functional and essential link between London and Paris.  It is historically unclear as to whether Inayat Khan was instructed to return to Britain.  There is speculation that she was given the option to return home given the danger but she refused while other theories claim that she was never instructed to leave her post.  Regardless, she evaded capture several times.

However, Inayat, Khan was eventually captured by the Germans, on or around the 13th of October 1943.  It is thought that she was betrayed to the Germans by either Henri Dericourt or Renee Garry.  Renee Garry was the sister of Emile Garry, who organised the Physicians Network and oversaw Inayat Khan’s work.  Theories attest to Garry being more likely the source of Inayat Khan’s betrayal for a mere 100,000 Francs, acting out of jealousy.  Apparently, Renee had been in love with another SOE agent France Antelme, whose affections were directed toward Noor.

Upon her arrest, Inayat Khan fought so viciously that her captors treated her as a dangerous prisoner.  She was held at the SD Headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch in Paris, where all other prisoners of the SOE in Paris were taken upon arrest.  Her stay at the headquarters lasted more than a month and while there is no hard evidence of torture, there is plenty of speculation.  Inayat Khan also attempted escape twice, and once nearly succeeded.

Noor Inayat Khan did not reveal any information to the Nazis, but did lie consistently according to the testimony of Hans Keiffer, head of the Gestapo in Paris.  However, Inayat Khan did not have to give up any information as she kept a notebook with transcriptions of every message she ever sent or received during her work in Paris.  This notebook was against the regulations of the SOE and provided the Nazis with all the information they could want.  Information found within this notebook was used by the Germans to send false messages.

It is often questioned as to whether the SOE used Inayat Khan, and other female operatives, as bait to misguide the Nazis during the war.  Through their capture, the SOE could feed disinformation to the Nazis and eventually defeat them.  Part of this speculation is rooted in the fact that London did not investigate anomalies sent in the transmissions from the Nazis after Inayat Khan’s capture.

Because Inayat Khan refused to sign a declaration that she would cooperate and make no more escape attempts, the Nazis transferred her to Pforzheim as a Nacht and Nebel (Night and Fog) prisoner on the 27th of November 1943.  This was done in complete secrecy.  It was at this camp that she was kept in complete isolation and continuously shackled.  It is also claimed by eyewitnesses that female prisoners, including Noor, were tortured, beaten, and raped.

In early September of 1944 (on or around the 11th), Inayat Khan and three other SOE agents, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman, and Madeleine Damerment, were moved to the Dachau Concentration Camp.  Early on the morning of September 13th, all four women were executed with a shot to the head.  According to a Dutch prisoner who witnessed the execution, Inayat Khan’s last word was “Liberte!”

In 1949, Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry off of the battlefield.  She was also awarded a British Mention in Dispatches as well as a French Croix de Guerre with Gold Star for her efforts during the war.  Noor Inayat Khan is one of the most famous of all the female SOE operatives of World War II, perhaps due to her remarkable actions of self-sacrifice in the name of freedom.

A statue  of Noor  Inayat Khan was Statue was unveiled in Gordon Square, London, by HRH Princess Anne in November 2012.

My article is published in the November edition of Sisters Magazine.


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This article was published in this month’s ‘Sisters’ Magazine, April 2013

Here is my story…

I didn’t plan to become a writer;I decided to write about a subject very close to my heart. My eldest son, Ibrahim, grew up with a condition called semantic pragmatic language disorder, part of the autistic spectrum disorder. Autism is a life-long development disability and effects people in different ways. Ibrahim had difficulty understanding what we said to him, and he didn’t understand how to use speech to make himself understood. He didn’t understand social situations.

By the age of two, we knew something wasn’t right about him. We kept records of all of his progress reports. I wrote down my own experiences and decided to turn it into a book. I wanted to highlight the lack of awareness of the condition in our society but particularly within the Asian community where autism wasn’t widely recognised. I felt isolated. I wanted to be heard. The book is called Ibrahim – Where in the Spectrum Does he Belong?  I self-published, under my own book publishing company, Perfect Publishers, which I launched in 2005( means the author is financially responsible and in control of entire publishing process. It requires a lot of hard work and effort.

I run my company from home; I work around my children and choose the hours I wish to work.  We outsource most of our work. We have a team of editors and graphic designers, and they all work from home too. So, we have correspondence with them via email.

Ibrahim is now 22 and he has now graduated from University. His graduation day, hit me very hard. I was riding a roller coaster of emotions. I am grateful to Allah (SWT) for helping me though the difficult times with him. Having sabr is very important in Islam and I am grateful for all the progress he has made.

I decided to write a historical novel, which I completed in 2006 called Lascar. My mother once told me that my paternal ancestor was a Lascar and this inspired me to write the novel. The word Lascar means ‘sailor from East India,’ (now present day Bangladesh.) Lascar is set in the 1860s and is the epic story of one man’s journey to fulfill his destiny. Ayan, a Bengali Muslim Lascar is forced to leave poverty stricken Bengal by becoming a Lascar – shoveling coal in the bowels of the steamships that trade between India and England.

Lascars have largely been forgotten in history. For over 400 years, Lascars were recruited for work aboard British ships, ferrying back cargoes containing tea, coffee, sugar and spices in times of peace and war. Many Lascars were Muslim. Lascars were a multiracial crew from Africa and the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent who worked alongside with British seamen.

It took me about a year to complete the novel. Many people do find history boring; with historical fiction, you can take a piece of history and make it interesting, in any way you like as long as it’s historically accurate. But most important of all is getting across an interesting story in an interesting way.

I decided not to self-publish again. It was hard to get my book out there to a wider audience and I didn’t want to go down that route again. So, I sent out proposals to many agents and publishers.
When I received the first few rejections, I thought that there was something wrong with my novel. It’s easy to change your novel after receiving a rejection from an agent or publisher. I started rewriting certain chapters. After a few more rejections, I asked myself, would I do this every time I receive a rejection? I received dozens and dozens of rejections. I received a lot of positive and encouraging feedback and took all constructive criticisms on board. Just because one publisher didn’t like my book didn’t mean no one else would. Rejections are not personal, but at times it felt that way. If I don’t feel enthusiastic enough about my work, then I shouldn’t expect someone else to. I really believed that it would be published one day.

I decided that I had to draw the line somewhere. I couldn’t carry on rewriting and rewriting. The publishing industry is as tough as ever, and I wanted the best possible chance for Lascar to succeed. I needed to move onto new projects, but it was difficult  as my mind was solely focused on getting Lascar published.

I wrote a radio play in 2009 based on the novel, for Silsila Productions’ The Lascar Seamen History Project. The Lascar is a teaching resource that includes a short radio play on an audio CD with an accompanying activity pack. The teaching pack explores the heritage of the Lascars. You can listen to it in full here:

I had articles published, such as ‘Currying Favour’ in the Best of British magazine and ‘Speech and Language Disorders in Bilingual Children’ in a US online magazine called ‘Children of the New Earth.’ I contributed, ‘The Integration of the Hijab into Police Uniforms’ to an anthology called ‘Behind the Hijab,’ published by Monsoon Press in 2009.

I read books and newspapers in order to help my writing. I read books I would not normally read. Writing Lascar made me realise that this is what I want to do. I have worked extremely hard to improve my writing, especially the structure and composition, the building of characters and the way they interact with each other. It can take years to develop a ‘style’ of writing and that comes from practice. Such as playing the piano or winning an Olympic medal, (although not quite the same thing!)

Lascar was shortlisted for the Muslim Writers Unpublished Novel Award 2008 and was longlisted for the Brit Writers Unpublished Novel Award 2010. It gave a chance for my work to be recognised in a wider audience. After 5 years of rejections and tears, I finally received a ‘yes’ from Indigo Dreams Publishing in 2011. Thanks to Allah (SWT), Lascar was published in June 2012. I had been waiting years for this. It takes just one ‘yes’ answer and everything changes. Allah (SWT) answered my prayers. This journey taught me to be patient and to be honest, I am happy that it took so long! I needed time to learn all about the publishing industry.

Cambridge News ran a story about my novel before the book launch. I am now talking about my book at  events and festivals. I particularly enjoy meeting new people who are interested in my work. Talking about my book in front of an audience was something I thought I could never do, and it was the hardest thing I ever did. I hated the thought of standing in front of people, but I did it not once, but a few times.

I then went on to co-author a screenplay called India Ink. It was shortlisted for the Circalit Story Department Contest and reached the finals of the Write Movies International Writing Contest 2011.

Throughout all of this, I have always made time for my children. I always put them and house duties first. I hope to continue with my success. I am now writing my second novel and hope to complete that in a year, insha Allah.

Finally, a word for all writers aspiring to get published; be prepared for lots of rejections, criticisms and tears. Any writer will tell you the same story – writing is difficult. However, the rewards of seeing the words you have written on the page make this difficult journey worthwhile. You need lots of patience, persistence and perseverance, as it can take years to get published. If you truly believe in your book, then someone else will. If you don’t feel enthusiastic enough about your work, then don’t shouldn’t expect someone else to. This will show in your writing.

Make sure to read, read and read! It will help your writing. Also, find the right agent or publisher for your work and never give up. If you get a rejection, don’t despair. It hurts, but keep focused. Move on and keep trying. Hopefully, someone will love the story as much as you do, and your book will be published, insha Allah.