Her false papers named her ‘Jeanne Marie Renier’ and her code name was Madeleine. She worked as a spy not afforded any protection under the Geneva Convention. She must have known that in advance and that foreknowledge indicates her passiion for involvement in the war effort. She landed in the Loire and reconoitred in Paris as a radio operator for the Prosper Network led by Francis Suttill. Henri Dericourt the Gestapo double agent betrayed this network. Almost all of Prosper was arrested by the Gestapo.
She somehow stayed ahead of her captors and became the most important link in France, but Renee Garry eventually berayed her to the SD. she was never tortured but was interrogated and refused to talk because she did not trust her interrogators. The Gestapo used Noor's own radio to send messages hoping for return "compromised" messages.
Noor never betrayed anyone under interrogation and attempted escape in November 43.
Unsuccessful, she was taken to Nazi Germany's Pforzheim prison. She was kept in chains and isolated from other prisoners whom she however was able to inform she was "Nora Baker".
Four SOE women were sent to Dachau Noor and 3 others. At Dachau a plaque was placed for these 4 women.
Post war records indicate that while at Dachau she was severely beaten by an SS guard named Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert who then shot her in the back of the neck. In May 46 he was executed for his crimes.
Noor Inayat Khan was a member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) founded in World War Two to support the work of the French Resistance and to help fulfil Winston Churchill’s desire to ‘set Europe ablaze’. Some
operatives for the SOE found posthumous post-war fame as a result of films made
about the work that they did. Such films have helped to cement their place in
history. For example, the work done Violette Szabo was made into a film. Some put in an equal great
deal of work for SOE but have faded from history because their work was not
similarly recorded for posterity. In Noor’s case, this was probably the result
of her work being kept classified – the National Records Office in Kew have only
recently released her files nigh on sixty years after her death. Noor Inayat
Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre with Gold
Star for her work.
Noor was born into an aristocratic Indian
family on January 1st 1914. Her British mother married a descendant of Tipu
Sultan, the last Moghal Emperor of Southern India. Noor was born in Moscow in
1914 but the family left for England and then France. Living in Paris, Noor was
brought up as a pacifist, Noor studied child psychology at the Sorbonne and
wrote poems and spent much of her time playing music.
War Two broke out in 1939, Noor was already achieving her first success. As a harpist
she had been heard at the Salle Erard. Her stories were appearing on the
children's page of ‘Le Figaro’ and broadcast on Radiodiffusion Francaise. A
London publisher bought out her ‘Twenty Jataka Tales’, which was published in
the UK, USA and France. Noor was also in the process of founding a children's
newspaper when war broke out.
When the Germans invaded France in the spring of 1940, Noor and her family travelled from Paris to Bordeaux to
get a ship to Great Britain. They were aided in this by the fact that her
brother had a British passport. They got the last ship to leave Bordeaux and
landed in Falmouth, Cornwall, on June 20th, 1940. Noor had been brought up as a
pacifist but she volunteered for the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) where
she took the name Nora Baker. On her application form for the WAAF Noor stated
that she was fluent in French and this was picked up by the SOE based at Baker
Street in London.
The overall head of SOE was General Sir Colin
Gubbins. Colonel Maurice Buckmaster was in command of the French Section (F
Section) with Vera Atkins responsible for the female recruits in that section. A
shortage of men with the necessary skills led to Churchill ordering that women
could be used in France within the SOE networks. Noor fitted the skills
requirement with ease – fluent in French and an already trained wireless
operator as a result of her time in the WAAF. SOE was to send 37 women to
Noor was recruited into the Special Operations Executive
in 1942. Her three months training did not always go well and she
was described by her training team as “clumsy”, “pretty scared of weapons”, “not
over-burdened with brains” and with “an unstable and temperamental personality”.
Buckmaster referred to these comments as “nonsense” and he saw that her most
vital attributes were her fluency in French and her expertise as a wireless
operator. At the end of her training Noor was “an agent in the field”.
Officially Noor was an Assistant Section Officer and seconded in the First Aid
Women’s Yeomanry (FANY) with an annual pay of £350. In reality she was ‘Jeanne
Marie Renier’ on her false papers with the call sign ‘nurse’ and the code-name
‘Madeleine’. Working as a spy, Noor was not afforded any protection under the Geneva Convention.
Noor took off by Lysander from Tangmere late on June 16th 1943 and
landed in a remote field in the Loire on June 17th. 'Madeleine' was to serve as
a radio operator for SOE in the Paris area working for the ‘Prosper’ network led
by Francis Suttill. This was a highly dangerous job with a life expectancy of
just six weeks. Her position had already been compromised however as the man who
greeted her in the Loire – Henri Dericourt – was a double agent working for the
Gestapo. Within a few months of her arrival, almost all the members of ‘Prosper’
were arrested in the most devastating coup the Gestapo made in occupied France.
However, Noor always managed to somehow keep one step ahead of those
chasing her. Her radio went wherever she went – a heavy 33lb B Mark II
Overnight, the ‘poste-Madeleine’ became the
most important link in France, being almost the only radio-link between France
and England. For four months Noor carried out this extremely dangerous work –
“the principal and most dangerous post in France” (General Sir Colin Gubbins,
Head of SOE). She had been trained to use a pistol during her training but she
had not taken the weapon with her because of her pacifist beliefs. Therefore, if
caught she would have had nothing to fight back with. Even Gestapo records made
it clear that they knew Noor existed but they simply could catch her.
Noor was eventually betrayed to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) by one
of her own. It is said that jealousy prompted Renée Garry to expose ‘Madeleine’
and she was rewarded with 100,000 French francs by the Gestapo – far less than
the Gestapo had been willing to pay for her betrayal. Ironically, the Gestapo
caught Noor just 200 meters from their headquarters at 84, Avenue Foch in Paris.
Placed in a top floor room and demanding a bath, Noor attempted to use this
privacy to escape - but was caught. She was never tortured by the SD but
throughout she daily interrogations Noor refused to talk claiming that she did
not trust her interrogators.
The Gestapo used Noor’s own radio to
send messages to Buckmaster in what they called a ‘radio game’. Against her
training, Noor had kept copies of the messages that she had sent. These proved
very useful to the SD who could mimic her use of her radio. They tried all they
could to get SOE to send important and compromising information to them with SOE
assuming they were sending it to ‘Madeleine’. Because radio messages were coming
through on Noor’s wireless, Buckmaster believed that she was still free. On
October 2nd 1943, Buckmaster decided to ignore a signal sent through that
‘Madeleine’ was in hospital – code for her being either captured or in great
Post-war Gestapo reports clearly show that Noor never
betrayed anyone under interrogation. “Madeleine after her capture showed great
courage and we got no information whatsoever out of her. We could never rely on
anything she said.”
In November 1943, Noor attempted
another escape. This also failed but the Gestapo finally ordered that this
highly prized prisoner should be taken out of Paris and imprisoned in Nazi
From November 1943 to September 1944,
Noor was kept in the women’s section of Pforzheim prison. She was classed as
highly important and was kept in chains and isolated from all other prisoners.
However, she did manage to inform those other prisoners there that she was Nora
The records indicate that four SOE women were then sent to
Dachau (Noor from Pforzheim and three others from a prison at Karlsrule) on
September 11th, 1944. On September 12th, 1944, it is known that four SOE women
were shot at Dachau – though their executions were never witnessed by any other
The SS kept no records of SOE prisoners held at Dachau
or what happened to them. However, post-war investigations indicated that Noor
was severely beaten by a SS guard called Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert who then shot
her in the back of the neck. In May 1946, Ruppert was executed for his crimes.
At Dachau a plaque has the name of the four SOE women shot
Noorunisa Inayat Khan Eliane
PlewmanMadeleine Damerment Yolante Beekman Noor was
posthumously awarded the MBE, the George Cross (one of only three awarded to
women in World War Two) and the Croix de Guerre