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The Princess Spy
Doyle Glass  -- History to Life Doyle Glass -- History to Life
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Dallas, TX
Monday, March 18, 2024


16 June, 1943
Under a full moon, Noor Inayat Khan lands in occupied France to become the first female wireless operator to transmit vital information about German military operations to London.

Noor Inayat Khan was not what one would expect of a British spy. She was a princess, having been born into royalty in India; a Muslim, whose father was a Sufi preacher; a writer, mainly of short stories; and a musician, who played the harp and the piano. But she was exactly what Britain’s military intelligence needed in 1943. Able to speak French, she was quickly chosen to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a secret British organization set up to support resistance to the Germans from behind enemy lines through espionage and sabotage. Despite those in the SOE who doubted that she was suited for work in the field, she was sent into occupied France because of her excellent radio skills, which were desperately needed. Her work became crucial to the war effort, helping downed airmen escape and arranging vital deliveries of supplies.

Khan based herself in Paris, a dangerous place for any member of the Resistance but especially for those doing radio work. Teams of Germans, many of them dressed in plain clothes, used listening devices hidden in laundry or bakery vans to locate and capture radio operators. Khan had to carry the heavy radio gear with her as she moved from place to place. She moved constantly to evade detection and dyed her hair blonde, then dyed it black a few days later, to avoid being recognized.

Within 10 days of her arrival, she was on the run as all of the other agents in her network were arrested by the Gestapo. The SOE wanted her to return to Britain, but she refused. She ended up doing the work of six radio operators.

Khan could be clever and charming when necessary, often using her gender to trick the Germans, who could not imagine that a frail young woman could be a spy. One morning, as she was hanging the antenna wire for her radio out a window, she was surprised by a voice behind her. It was a German officer. “Would mademoiselle need help?” He inquired, smiling.

Khan enlisted his help, telling him that she wished to listen to some music on the radio. The officer obliged, never suspecting that he was aiding a spy.

Tragically, in October 1943, Noor was betrayed by a French collaborator and arrested by the Gestapo. Even in captivity and subjected to brutal interrogation and torture, she refused to divulge any sensitive information that could compromise her comrades or the Allied mission. In September 1944, after enduring months of imprisonment and suffering, Noor, along with three other female SOE agents, was executed at the Dachau concentration camp

In recognition of her bravery and service, she was awarded the George Cross by Britain and the Croix de Guerre, with gold star, by France.

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