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Timewatch: The Princess Spy - Archive

Updated Thursday 25th April 2013

Timewatch tells the tale of "Nora Baker"'s wartime bravery. Meet the princess spy.

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Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission In 1943 a young woman calling herself Nora Baker left British soil for a moonlit field in Northern France from where she would be taken to Nazi occupied Paris. For the duration of her mission behind enemy lines, she would be operating in secret and mostly alone. From this point on, her true identity would be revealed to no-one.

Noor Inayat Khan had arrived in England with her family three years before. Descended from Indian royalty, the overriding influence throughout her life had been the teachings of her pacifist Sufi father. Yet Noor felt she needed to play a part in ridding Europe of Nazi terror.

She immediately joined the WAAF to be trained as a wireless operator, choosing the name Nora Baker to better fit into her new British life. With her fluent French and newly acclaimed wireless skills it was not long before she was recruited into the top secret and highly sensitive world of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). After a shortened course at the various secret schools she was ready to undertake her dangerous work. Her codename was Madeleine.

More than sixty years later, Timewatch is able to build up a remarkable portrait of this unlikely heroine, through her files at the National Archives and previously unseen material from her family. What emerges is a woman who dramatically divided her seniors. Many of her instructors thought she was completely unsuited to work in the field, that she should never have been sent. Yet London desperately needed wireless operators in France, and Noor was the only trained one they had.

Her role was seen as the most dangerous in SOE. Wireless operators were not expected to survive more than six weeks in the field. The link they provided between the French underground and London was so vital to defeating the Nazis, that they were being constantly tracked by the Sicherheitsdienst or SD, the intelligence branch of the SS.

Unbeknown to London, the network that Noor joined, the Prosper network, had already been infiltrated by the SD. One-by-one, its agents were tracked down and arrested. In a matter of weeks Noor became London’s most vital link with Paris. Although the SD were aware of the wireless operator Madeleine, time and again she frustrated their efforts to capture her.

When she refused to agree to London’s request to return to England, her capture became inevitable, and on October 13th 1943 her time finally ran out. Returning to her flat in Paris, she found the SD waiting for her.

Noor’s role was so secret, even her family knew nothing about it. Her story has spent many years shrouded in mystery and buried from public eye. She has, in effect, been forgotten by history where others were celebrated. Along with Noor's nephew David, Timewatch, goes on a remarkable journey.

With unique access to family material, testimonies of those who held her captive, talking to some of her fellow SOE agents, Timewatch pieces together the story of her remarkable secret life and traces her very last steps.

 

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