Brits Celebrate Indian Princess Who Died For England

Britain is honoring an Indian princess, Noor Inayat Khan, who spied for the UK during WWII and was captured after parachuting into France behind enemy lines. She died in a Nazi concentration camp. Vicki Barker has the story.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There was once an Indian princess whose beginning was something out of a fairy tale. Her terrible end achieved mythic status among the few who knew about her extraordinary life. And now, the princess, who became a spy for the British, during World War II, is finally being recognized by the wider world. Vicki Barker reports from London.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: We were taught all about firearms, British and foreign.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: "Now It Can Be Told," a British documentary made just after World War II, when former secret agents were finally allowed to describe their training and their missions. Of that colorful cast of characters, one of the most remarkable was the woman known as Norah Baker. In real life, she was Noor Inayat Khan, born into a family of eminent Sufi mystics with royal blood in her veins; cultured, intelligent and fluent in French. And when World War II broke out, she volunteered to be parachuted into occupied France. Her biographer, Shrabani Basu:

SHRABANI BASU: She was this gentle writer of children's stories, a musician - but she was transformed. She was a tigress in the field.

BARKER: In Paris , betrayed by a colleague, she was arrested, and resisted so fiercely she was classified as dangerous. Tortured for 10 months, she never revealed any secrets. Noor Inayat Khan was executed at Dachau concentration camp in September 1944. She was 30 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "NOW IT CAN BE TOLD")

LEONARD RATCLIFFE: It's a difficult line of approach over those trees, but I think we can manage it.

BARKER: The pilot in that clip from 'Now It Can Be Told' is Leonard Ratcliffe. Now in his 90s, Ratcliffe flew dozens of secret agents into enemy territory - many of them women.

RATCLIFFE: I think that they were incredibly brave. There is a lobby at the moment that women should be honored. And I totally agree. I think they were wonderful.

BARKER: Post-war France posthumously awarded Noor the Croix de Guerre; Britain, the George Cross.

(APPLAUSE)

BARKER: And this past week, after a two-year campaign, a memorial to Noor was unveiled in a London square. On hand were family members, Britain's Princess Anne and some of her last surviving comrades. They say they were told Noor Inayat Khan's final word was: liberte. For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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