Remembrance month

Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan

We have a number of useful resources for researching women at war, including The WAAF at War Index on SoG Data Online. This name index lists the 171 members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force 1939-1945 identified in The WAAF at War by John Frayn Turner (2011). A paper copy of the book will be available on the RAF shelves.

Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, circa 1943 (colourised)

SoG Data Online entry/screengrab for The WAAF at War Index



One entry is for KHAN, Noor Inayat (Asst Sect Off) ** with illustration above.

** indicates that the airwoman was decorated during the war.

Khan is the subject of a recent film, Khan’s story is portrayed in the 2020 film A Call to Spy, written by Sarah Megan Thomas and directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher. The plot centres around Churchill’s new espionage agency, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and its recruitment and training of two unusual candidates, specially chosen by spymistress Vera Atkins (1908-2000). They were Virginia Hall (1906-1982) and Noor Inayat Khan.

A Call to Spy (2020) theatrical release poster



Holder of the George Cross and the French Croix de Guerre, Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan (1914-1944), joined the AAF on 19 November 1940 as an Aircraft Woman 2nd Class. She initially trained as a wireless operator and was known to her fellow WAAFs as ‘Nora’, but later received a commission as an Assistant Section Officer. A 3x great granddaughter of the warrior ruler Tipu Sultan, Khan was a pacifist, raised as a Sufi Muslim. Despite her upbringing, Khan was committed to defeating Nazism. Although her mother was American and her father Indian, Khan had been raised first in London’s Bloomsbury and then in France. The family fled to London in June 1940.


Her fluency in English and French marked her out for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and she was seconded to FANY. In June 1943, Khan was the first female wireless operator sent to work with the Resistance in France. After other wireless operators were captured, Khan was invited to return to Britain. Bravely she refused, and remained in Paris transmitting messages until she was captured in October. She was eventually sent to Dachau Concentration Camp where she was executed on 13 September 1944.

Her George Cross award was announced in the London Gazette of 5 April 1949. The citation stated that:

Assistant Section Officer INAYAT-KHAN displayed the most conspicuous courage, both moral and physical over a period of more than 12 months.

A memorial statue to Noor Inayat Khan was unveiled in London on 8 November 2012.

Sources

  • SoG Data Online: The WAAF at War Index
  • Shrabani Basu, Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan (Sutton Publishing, 2006)
  • Emma Jolly, My Ancestor was a Woman at War (SoG, 2014)
  • J Overton-Fuller, Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan (Gollancz, 1952)
  • (film) A Call to Spy (2020)
Notes and comments

Please contact Emma Jolly for more information about this article

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