Britain has a proud history of paying tribute to its war heroes and over the decades the contribution of Indian soldiers has been duly noted. However, the involvement of Indian women in World War II is a subject that had gone under the radar until 2006. It was that year Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan, by London-based author Shrabani Basu, was published.
The book not only helped highlight the incredible achievement of a young Indian Muslim woman who volunteered to fight for her adopted countries of England and France to help save the Jews, but also sowed the seed for the heroine to be permanently honoured in her home country.
Five years later thanks to the efforts of Ms Basu, the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust was established with the aim of raising funds to erect a bust of Noor in London’s Gordon Square to ensure that her sacrifice is not forgotten by future generations.
As part of the trusts activities, on 25th August 2011 a musical night dedicated to the World War II heroine took place at the Rudolf Steiner Theatre in London. An inspiring tribute was given to the princess turned secret agent in the form of a dance theatre piece titled ‘Noor’ and a Sufi concert titled ‘Soul of Punjab’.
Dancer Felicia Norton took the audience into the life of the beautiful and gentle Noor from her idyllic childhood in Paris surrounded by music and meditation to her role as a secret agent in World War II and ultimate tragic death. Noor’s original poems, The Lamp of Joy, La Violette, and Songs to the Madzub were artistically woven into the performance by composer David Majzlin.
The theatre performance was followed by a splendid rendition of soulful Sufi music from the heart of Punjab by the impeccable Madan Gopal Singh. The line up of supporting musicians was brought together from three continents for this thrilling one-off band. Singh presented a medley of songs including the songs of Punjabi poet Bulle Shah as well as songs inspired by the poetry of Mevlana Rumi, Kabir and Amir Khusrau. Talvin Singh’s tabla performance deserves special mention for blowing the night away.
A descendant of the legendary Tipu Sultan, Noor Inayat Khan was a secret agent in the second World War. She was infiltrated into France by the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Churchill’s secret organisation that sought to “set Europe ablaze”.
Armed with only a false passport and a pistol, the beautiful and gentle Noor became the first woman radio operator to be sent to occupied Paris. Unfortunately, she was betrayed and captured by the Germans. Despite being repeatedly tortured and interrogated, she revealed nothing. She was executed at the young age of 30 by an SS officer on September 13, 1944, at Dachau Concentration Camp.
Britain posthumously awarded Noor the George Cross for her extraordinary bravery, and France honoured her with the Croix de Guerre.
The Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust has been established to promote the message of peace, non-violence and religious and racial harmony - the principles Noor stood for. The Trust also works with schools, universities and museums to spread the story of the World War II heroine. Through Noor’s story, it aims to highlight the often-ignored fact of the contribution of Indian soldiers and Indian women to the two World Wars.
Further information about Noor and the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust can be found at http://www.noormemorial.org/