Great Britain has been home to many unsung heroes throughout the centuries. Heroes who have never quite gained the acclaim that they so richly deserve.
Whether it be the ‘Quiet Beatle’ George Harrison, the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing or pioneering black footballer Arthur Wharton, many legendary figures have flown under the radar, or only gained adulation many years after their passing.
Until recently, Noor Inayat Khan was part of a plethora of wartime protagonists whose brave actions ensured the 1945 defeat of a truly evil regime but had not seen their sacrifices honoured. This week, however, Khan became the first woman of Indian origin to be celebrated with an English heritage blue plaque in her West End family home.
Khan served in the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a secret organisation established with the purpose of conducting espionage behind the lines of Axis forces, during World War II. The daughter of a member of the Indian nobility, Khan spent her formative years in Bloomsbury, London and then Suresnes in France.
It was in her youth where a young Noor Khan developed the language skills that would prove so vital to her military efforts. Despite holding pacifistic beliefs and supporting Indian independence from the weakening British imperial clutches, Khan became the first female covert radio operator to set up base in France.
Between June 1943 and her arrest four months later, a far longer run than most spies of this type experienced, she proved evasive and steadfast while transmitting crucial information back to Blighty. Even after she had been captured, she remained tight-lipped for ten months before she was finally executed by SS officer Friedrich Ruppert.
In facing death, as she did in life the diminutive hero remained inspirationally defiant. The actions of Khan were courageous beyond belief and immeasurable in significance for British military intelligence.
The blue plaque was unveiled in Bloomsbury on 28 August. This is a much-welcomed development in the celebration of figures from backgrounds who have previously been grievously underrepresented in traditional discussions on British war heroes.
Even if Khan’s royal upbringing differed drastically from the majority of the 2.5 million strong Indian contingent in the British army, the recognition of her valiant endeavours is part of a process of engaging with and championing previously overlooked national heroes. For Noor Inayat Khan this latest honour is richly deserved.