The life of a British Muslim woman born to Indian royalty before becoming a secret agent in Nazi-occupied France is being celebrated in a new exhibition which can now be viewed online.
Noor Inayat Khan, a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, the 18th-century Muslim ruler of Mysore, in India, was recruited to join the Special Operations Executive aiding the French resistance in the Second World War.
Developed by the Girlguiding Association to pass Ms Khan’s inspirational story of heroism on to a new generation, the interactive exhibition comprises video footage, striking animations, evocative archive photographs and documents. Their account of how a young Muslim woman overcame significant prejudice to play a key role in supporting the French resistance aims to highlight the diverse nature of services and sacrifices made during the war effort.
An unlikely candidate for espionage, Ms Khan was educated in France and became an author of children’s books as well as a musician. But, armed with a false identity and a pistol, the spy princess became the first female radio operator to be sent to occupied France during the war.
There, she posed as a children’s nurse while sending coded messages from behind enemy lines, and was credited with holding together the Paris resistance through some of the darkest hours of the war.
She would eventually become known as “Madeleine of the Resistance” and prove wrong her training officers, some of whom believed she was unfit to work as a spy.
During her mission, she was captured by the Gestapo but, despite being tortured for information, gave nothing away. After numerous attempts to escape confinement, she was eventually transferred to the Dachau concentration camp, where she was executed aged 30 in 1944.
In 1949, she was posthumously awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian award for bravery.
The digital exhibition at Runnymede Air Forces Memorial, produced by the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation, will allow the public to put their code-breaking skills to the test and discover the skills needed by a radio operator in the field.
The CWGF’s director of international and community engagement, Julian Evans, said: “Noor’s story is an inspirational one and we believed it important, as the custodians of the memorial on which her name is inscribed, to help give it greater prominence.
“We hope that the exhibition will encourage more people to visit the Air Forces Memorial to explore the story of Noor and the 20,000 other members of the Commonwealth Air Forces who are commemorated here.”