British Indian spy Noor Inayat Khan, who was executed at the age of 30, found a special honour almost 80 years after her death in the form of a council housing block in north London, which has been named after her.
Camden Council unveiled the “Noor Inayat Khan House” at a ceremony attended by local Labour Party MP and Opposition leader Keir Starmer, Khan’s biographer Shrabani Basu and Camden Council leaders and residents.
The decision was taken following a ballot of residents to choose from a shortlist of the area’s historic inhabitants.
Khan is said to be a descendent of Tipu Sultan, the king of Mysore.
Camden was the borough where young Noor lived with her family before she left for Nazi-occupied France in 1943 after being recruited as an undercover radio operator for Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), becoming the first woman to be dropped behind enemy lines during the Second World War.
“It is wonderful that the residents of Camden voted to name the housing block after Noor Inayat Khan; the people of Camden have truly taken Noor to heart, and she is known and loved in the borough,” said Basu, the London-based author of ‘Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan’.
In her speech at the unveiling, she noted: “Today we remember Noor Inayat Khan as a heroine of the war, a young woman of Indian origin, who unhesitatingly gave her life in the fight against Fascism. But it is not just her bravery and loyalty that we remember. At a time when conflict is rife in the world, and countries and communities are divided by gunfire and walls, it is important to remember the values that Noor stood for.
“She was a Sufi, she believed in religious tolerance, she believed in non-violence and peace between nations. Today, let us take away her message for peace and harmony.” In 2020, the English Heritage charity unveiled a Blue Plaque at 4 Taviton Street in Bloomsbury to commemorate Khan’s home in Camden, following a memorial installed nearby at Gordon Square by the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust in 2012.
The war heroine was shot dead at Dachau concentration camp in 1944.
The housing forms part of a social housing project to deliver more affordable homes in London.
“This isn’t just about some bricks and some windows and a roof; this is about life chances, aspiration and equal opportunity for everyone. When I was growing up we didn’t have a lot of money, but we did have a house. And that gave me the security to go on and do some of the things that I’ve done in my life. I want every child to have that chance,” said Starmer, member of Parliament for Holborn and St. Pancras in Camden.
Each of the three new residential buildings at the Maitland Park redevelopment has been named after prominent local figures as part of Camden Council’s strategy for diversity in the public spaces.
Besides Noor Inayat Khan, a second block commemorates Mary Prince – the first black woman to have an autobiography published in Britain and a third is named after Antony Grey – an LGBTQ activist whose work led to decriminalisation of homosexuality for men.
Earlier, Inayat Khan’s portrait was unveiled by Queen Camilla of England. A room at the RAF Club has been named “Noor Inayat Khan” in her honour, where her portrait is displayed.
Noor Khan was part of the RAF’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) when she joined the SOE in 1942. She was one of only two WAAF members to receive the George Cross, the highest honour for bravery.
Noor was born in Moscow in 1914. Her father was a Sufi saint, and her mother was American. She grew up in London and studied in Paris. When France was in trouble during World War II, she went to England and joined a group called WAAF.
Noor was the first woman from the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to secretly enter France. She landed there on June 16, 1943, using a Lysander aircraft. The RAF Club stated that the Gestapo, the Nazi police, arrested many resistance groups in Paris, including the one Noor was part of. Despite the danger, she chose to stay in France to be with her friends.
Noor was captured by the Gestapo in 1943. She was using the name “Madeleine” at that time. They asked her difficult and brutal questions, but she didn’t reveal any information about her work or friends. They imprisoned her, thinking she was secure there. She attempted to escape twice but was unsuccessful. Later, she was moved to Germany because she was considered a tough and uncooperative prisoner.