A spy who operated in occupied France for months during the second world war before being captured by the Gestapo and later executed has become the first woman of south Asian descent to be given a blue plaque in London.
Noor Inayat Khan received the George Cross for her exploits in Paris, where she volunteered as a radio operator, and now her former family home in Bloomsbury has been recognised by English Heritage after first being nominated 14 years ago.
Noor Inayat-Khan became Britain’s ‘first Muslim war heroine in Europe’
The award came after work by a group that was set up in 2016 to address the lack of diversity in the scheme. When the working group began, only 33 of the more than 900 plaques were dedicated to black and Asian figures. Even now, only about 14% celebrate women.
Anna Eavis, the curatorial director of English Heritage, said it was vital that a more diverse selection of blue plaques were awarded, but they still needed more public nominations for people of colour in order to address the racial imbalance.
“The continuing diversity of London’s population means that it is very important that public-realm schemes like this are more representative and tell the whole story,” Eavis said.
Khan’s biographer, Shrabani Basu, said the spy – who went by the codename Madeleine – was also a talented musician and a published children’s author before becoming an unlikely candidate for Britain’s “first Muslim war heroine in Europe”.
Basu said: “She was fluent in French, she knew the area, and she was a brilliant radio operator. So she went in under cover behind enemy lines and she worked there for three months setting up crucial links and sending information back to London.”