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Memorial for Asian spy unveiled

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A bronze bust of Princess Noor Inayat Khan has been unveiled by Princess Anne in London.

Noor is the first Asian women in the UK to receive a dedicated memorial for her intelligence-gathering services during the Second World War.

Noor was drafted into the British Secret Service to be in the resistance against the Nazis in France.

She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) before being recruited into Britain’s Special Operations Exectutive (SOE) because of her fluency in both French and English.

Following meticulous training, she was deployed to Paris at the end of 1942, the first female radio operator to be sent, and she was able to band together a ‘spy ring’ fighting the Nazi regime.

She was part of a highly dangerous and risky campaign, and the job’s life expectancy was only six weeks.

It was thought that Noor, who went by the code name of Madeleine, was in the end betrayed.

Captured by the Gestapo, she was first sent to Pforzheim prison in Germany where she was kept shackled and in solitary confinement.

Here, she was tortured for the next 10 months – and it is perhaps a miracle that during this period she refused to reveal any British or Allied secrets.

She was finally taken to Dachau concentration camp and shot and killed there on 13 September 1944, at the age of 30. Her last word was “Liberté”.

Noor was posthumously awarded the George Cross for her gallantry. France honoured her with the Croix de Guerre.

Noor’s cousin, Mahmood Khan van Goens Youskine, admitted: “We did not find out until after the war about her SOE work and what ultimately happened to her.”

“When we did, we were naturally saddened but her spirit has lived on. Everyone – British, Indian and beyond – can take pride in what she did,” he said.

Shrabani Basu, author of Noor’s biography, Spy Princess, was responsible for the campaign which called for a dedicated memorial.

Regarding her as a true heroine and symbol of courage, Basu founded the Noor Memorial Trust and spent the last two years seeking out and gaining the support of high ranking individuals, including David Cameron.

She eventually managed to raise £70,000 for the bronze bust, by sculptor Karen Newman, which has been placed in the London borough of Bloomsbury where Noor lived as child.

“As I started researching her life, I realised she was a Sufi who believed in non-violence and religious harmony and had yet volunteered to be in the frontline,” Basu said.

Princess Noor is notably the great-great-great-granddaughter of the South Indian ruler Tipu Sultan, who fought against the British in the 1800s and died in battle.

“Though she believed firmly in Indian independence, she was focused and knew that it was important to fight the war against fascism,” Basu added.

“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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