Muslim war heroine to be honoured with famous blue plaque

The scheme links noteworthy people of the past with London's buildings of the present

Noor Inayat Khan

Noor Inayat Khan
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An unlikely British spy is to join an illustrious roster of Britons to be commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque.

Noor Inayat Khan was recruited to Winston Churchill’s elite Special Operations Executive secret agents under the code name “Madeleine”. In 1943, she was dispatched to Nazi-occupied France to single-handedly run a network of spies across Paris.

After being betrayed, Ms Khan was captured by the Gestapo and tortured for 10 months. Remarkably, she refused to divulge any information that might compromise Allied operations. In September 1944, aged 30, she was executed by firing squad at Dachau concentration camp.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 26: A blue plaque is displayed at 22, Frith Street where on 26 January, 1926, Scottish engineer John Logie Baird gave the first ever public demonstration of moving pictures on his invention he called the 'television', on January 26, 2016 in London, England. This year celebrates the 90th anniversary of Baird's invention of the television. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
The blue plaque scheme commemorates famous people from the past like inventor of the television, John Logie Baird. Getty

Her heroism was recognised in 1949 when she was posthumously given the George Cross - the UK’s highest civilian honour for bravery. But as the years passed, her memory slipped from public consciousness in Britain - despite being annually commemorated in France where she was awarded the Croix de Guerre.

This changed in 2011 when a bronze bust was erected in Gordon Square Gardens close to the Bloomsbury house in London where Ms Khan grew up.

The memorial came after a campaign led by her biographer, Shrabani Basu. Nine years on, the efforts of Ms Basu are now responsible for the awarding of the famous English Heritage plaque.

Members of the the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (Princess Royal's Volunteer Corp) chat following a ceremony to unveil a statue of Noor Inayat Khan in Gordon Square Gardens, central London on November 8, 2012 in London, England. Noor Inayat Khan worked as a radio operator for the Women's Auxiliary Air Force before being recruited by the Special Operations Executive as an agent, working behind enemy lines in Paris, France.  She was eventually captured, tortured and beaten before being executed at Dachau Concentration Camp, aged 30. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo by LEON NEAL / AFP)
A plaque was erected in Ms Khan's memory in Gordon Square Gardens, London in 2011. AFP

"It is fitting that Noor Inayat Khan is the first woman of Indian origin to be commemorated with a blue plaque," Ms Basu told Sky News. "As people walk by, Noor's story will continue to inspire future generations."

Two years ago, a group of British MPs made an unsuccessful attempt to make Ms Khan the new face of the £50 note. Instead, the Bank of England decided to honour British mathematician and Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing.

Ms Khan's plaque will provide solace to the thwarted parliamentarians and will be unveiled on English Heritage’s Facebook page at 7pm UK time on Friday. The organisation is seeking to increase the number of females in the scheme after coming under criticism for a stark gender imbalance.

Ms Khan isn't the only "unlikely" Second World War spy. The gallery below reveals five other famous names whose careers in espionage may well have passed you by...