Noor Inayat Khan, the daughter of a Sufi musician and teacher and his American wife, was born on January 1, 1914 in Moscow. Khan was raised in Paris, where she became a freelance writer of children’s stories.
After the fall of France in 1940, Khan escaped to England. That November, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). Two years later, in late 1942, the Special Operations Executive recruited her to join the SOE as a radio operator. In June 1943, Khan flew to Paris and became the first female operator to enter occupied France. In Paris, she worked for the “Prosper” resistance network under the code name “Madeleine.” Though many members of the network were arrested, Khan was determined not to retreat to England.
Khan’s Webley M1907 6.35mm pistol, seen here, is held in the collections of the Imperial War Museums, and is typical of the type of firearm issued to SOE agents.
In October 1943, Khan was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in Germany’s Pforzheim prison. Kept in solitary confinement and tortured, Khan refused to surrender any information. In September 1944, Khan was transferred to Dachau concentration camp and executed.
In 1949, she was posthumously awarded the George Cross for her bravery.