For more than 60 years, the herosim of Noor Inayat Khan, one of Winston Churchill's elite Special Operations Executive secret agents, has remained largely forgotten.
She was the first female radio operator sent into Nazi-occupied France, where her bravery has long been recognised, and for three months she single-handedly ran a cell of spies across Paris until she was betrayed and captured.
For ten months she was tortured by the Gestapo desperate for any information about SOE operations, but she stood firm and was eventually executed at Dachau concentration camp on September 13, 1944, aged just 30.
|Noor Inayat Khan from the book Spy Princess: The Life Of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu.
Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross in 1949 and the French Croix de Guerre, but her courage has since been allowed to fade into history in Britain... until now.
And, mainly due to the efforts of her biographer Shrabani Basu, her bravery is finally to be permanently recognised in England with a bronze bust in central London, close to the Bloomsbury house where she lived as a child.
A campaign to raise £100,000 for what will be the first memorial in Britain to either a Muslim or an Asian woman has won the backing of 34 MPs and prominent British Asians.
Khan was born on New Year's Day 1914 in Moscow to an Indian father and an American mother. She was a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, the renowned 18th century Muslim 'Tiger of Mysore' who refused to submit to British rule and died in battle.
Her father was an Indian Muslim preacher who moved his family first to London and then to Paris, where Khan was educated and later worked writing childrens' stories.
Despite carrying a passport of an imperial subject, Khan had no loyalty to Britain. But she and her brother Vilayat despised the greater evil of Nazi Germany and fled to England after the fall of France.
In November 1940 she joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, and two years later her quiet dedication and training in radio transmitting attracted the attention of the SOE.
Despite doubts about her suitability, she was flown to France in June 1943 to become the radio operator for the 'Prosper' resistance network in Paris, using the codename 'Madeleine' and with the famous instruction to 'set Europe ablaze'.
Many members of the network were arrested shortly afterwards but she chose to remain in France and, frequently changing her appearance and alias, she spent the summer moving from place to place, trying to relay messages back to London.
She was eventually betrayed by a Frenchwoman, supposedly the jealous girlfriend of a comrade, and arrested by the Gestapo who discovered that she had unwisely kept copies of all her secret signals. The Germans were able to use her radio to trick London into sending new agents -- straight into the hands of the waiting Gestapo.
In November 1943, she was sent to Pforzheim prison in Germany where she was kept in chains and in solitary confinement. Despite repeated torture, she refused to reveal any information and in September 1944, Khan and three other female SOE agents were transferred to Dachau where they were shot.
Shrabani Basu, who has spent eight years researching official archives and family records, told the Independent newspaper: 'I feel it is very important that what she did should not be allowed to fade from memory, particularly living in the times that we do.
'Here was a young Muslim woman who gave her life for this country and for the fight against those who wanted to destroy the Jewish race. She was an icon for the bond that exists between Britain and India but also between people who fought for what they believed to be right.'
His efforts to rekindle interest in her story include the making of a £10 million biopic by a British production company.
Around £25,000 of the cost required for the bust has been raised, and permission has been granted to site the sculpture on land owned by the University of London in Gordon Square. The cause has won the support of human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti and film director Gurinder Chadha.
Incredible decision that cost Britain’s last spy in Paris her life
Noor Inayat Khan was the last essential link between London and Paris after mass arrests by the Gestapo had destroyed the Special Operation Executive's spy network in Paris.
Her position became so dangerous that her commanders urged her to return. She refused and it was a decision that was to cost Khan her life.
In November 1940, having fled France with her brother to fight Nazi tyranny, Khan joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, and as an Aircraftwoman 2nd Class she was sent to be trained as a wireless operator.
|Noor Inayat Khan's position in Paris became so dangerous that she was urged to return to London but she refused
She was recruited to join F (France) Section of the Special Operations Executive and although her superiors held mixed opinions on her suitability for secret warfare, her fluent French and her competency in wireless operation made her a desirable candidate.
On June 16, 1943, codenamed 'Madeleine' and under the cover identity of Jeanne-Marie Regnier, Khan was parachuted into Northern France. She travelled to Paris, and together with two other SOE radio operators, Diana Rowden and Cecily Lefort, joined the Physician network led by Francis Suttill.
During the six weeks immediately following her arrival, the Gestapo made mass arrests in the Paris Resistance groups to which she had been detailed. She refused to abandon what had become the principal and most dangerous post in France as she did not wish to leave her French comrades without communications and also hoped to rebuild her group.
Despite having a full description of her and deploying considerable forces in their effort to break the last remaining link with London, it was only her betrayal by a French woman that led to her capture by the Gestapo.
Khan was taken to their HQ where the Germans, now in possession of her codes and messages, asked her to co-operate. She refused and gave them no information of any kind.
While she was imprisoned in one of the cells on the fifth floor of the Gestapo HQ in Avenue Foch, she made two unsuccessful bids to escape.
She was asked to sign a declaration that she would make no further attempts but refused and the Chief of the Gestapo obtained permission from Berlin to send her to Germany for 'safe custody'.
Khan was sent to Karlsruhe in November 1943, and then to Pforzheim where her cell was apart from the main prison. She was considered to be particularly dangerous and uncooperative.
Finally Khan was taken with three others to Dachau concentration camp on the September 12, 1944, and on arrival was escorted to the crematorium where she was shot.
Courtesy Daily Mail, UK