Henri Dericourt

Henri Déricourt was born in France in September 1909. Trained as a civilian pilot before joined the French Air Force as a test pilot in 1939.

When France surrendered to Nazi Germany in June 1940, Déricourt went back to civil aviation but in August 1942 he escaped to Britain. After being checked out at the Royal Patriotic School's vetting process, he joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Déricourt was parachuted into France on 22nd January 1943. His main task was to find suitable landing grounds and organize receptions for agents brought by air. He worked mainly for the Prosper Network and over the next few months he arranged the transport by plane of over 67 agents including Noor Inayat Khan, Vera Leigh, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman, Diana Rowden, Jack Agazarian, Francis Suttill, Pearl Witherington and Lise de Baissac.

In the summer of 1943 the Gestapo arrested several British agents working in France. It became clear that a double-agent had infiltrated the Special Operations Executive. Several agents, including Francis Cammaerts, Jack Agazarian and Francis Suttill became convinced that Déricourt was the man responsible. These suspicions increased when it became known that Déricourt was living in Paris in a flat next to one rented by Hugo Bleicher of Abwehr.

Another agent, Henri Frager, told Nicholas Bodington when he visited occupied France in July 1943 that Déricourt was a German spy. Bodington dismissed this theory arguing that as Déricourt arranged his journey to France and he had not been arrested. When Bodington refused to take action some agents began to think that he was also a double agent.

Soon afterwards Georges Pichard, informed Maurice Buckmaster that he had heard from a good source that a "Frenchman in charge of air operations in the Paris and Angers districts" was working for Abwehr. Buckmaster like Bodington before him, dismissed the charges and Déricourt was allowed to continue his work in France until February 1944.

After the Second World War the interrogation of German officials provided evidence that Déricourt was guilty of providing information to Abwehr and the Gestapo that led to the arrest and execution of several agents including Noor Inayat Khan, Vera Leigh, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman, Diana Rowden, Gilbert Norman, Jack Agazarian and Francis Suttill.

In November 1946, Déricourt was arrested by the French authorities but did not appear in court until June 1948. At the trial Nicholas Bodington testified that he had been in charge of all Déricourt's work in the field. He admitted that he was aware that Déricourt was in contact with the Germans but that no important information had been revealed.

During the trial the defence council argued that although the prosecution could bring plenty of suspicious indirect evidence against Déricourt, they could not actually pin any definite act of treachery on him. Largely on the evidence provided by Nicholas Bodington, Déricourt was acquitted.

When Jean Overton Fuller interviewed Déricourt for her book, Double Agent, he told her that leaders of the Special Operations Executive knew the organization had been penetrated by the Gestapo and that men and women were deliberately sacrificed in order to distract their attention from the planned landings in Sicily and Normandy.

Henri Déricourt was reported to have been killed in an air crash while flying over Laos on 20th November, 1962. His body was never found and some writers have claimed that his death was faked in order to allow him to begin a new life under another name.

When Bodington was in Paris in July and in frequent touch with Déricourt, Frager had imparted his doubts to him; but Bodington had brushed them aside, feeling intelligibly enough that as he was not arrested himself, the people he saw must all be sound. Frager remarked that he "is convinced that the Colonel (Hugo Bleicher) was not lying and believes he spoke the truth when he said that the Germans had decided not to arrest Major Bodington, as they did not want to ruin one of their best channels of information.

It is indelicate to say what I think about this officer, as long as his case is sub-judice. But when - if ever - the clouds are blown away, I am prepared to bet a large sum that we shall find him entirely innocent of any voluntary dealing with the enemy. His efficiency in Hudson and Lysander work was staggering and it was his very success that raised the ugly idea that he was controlled. People who did not know him and judged him on the results of his work said "It's too good to be true - he must be a bad hat". That kind of reasoning would of course be scoffed at by any country section officer who has to judge his man far more closely than an outsider. Suffice it to say that he never once let any of our boys down and that he has by far the finest record of operations completed of any member of SOE.

I knew that Henri Déricourt was in contact with the Germans. He told me about it a few hours after I arrived at the landing ground at Cande on 15 July. I told him not to break off his contacts with the Germans.

At the end of the war we all came back with bitter recriminations, boiling with fury about what had happened that shouldn't have and what hadn't happened that should have. But we came to realize that it was a consequence of London being out of touch with actual conditions in the field, while we were out of touch with what was going on there, with the degree of confusion at Bletchley, where conditions could only be described as chaotic.

Francis Cammaerts dismisses as 'a fantasy' the theory put forward by those like his one-time deputy Pierre Raynaud and the BBC's Robert Marshall that Dericourt was run by MI6. He thinks men like Bodington and Dericourt became double agents because 'they had a freak sense of adventure and thought it was a clever way to play it.'

One of the F Section agents recruited in the field, Jacques Bureau - Prosper's radio technician - also is convinced that the Prosper agents were used to deceive the Germans about the time and place of the invasion, but he sees it as an indispensable, a justifiable strategy for defeating the Nazis and saving countless lives. His attitude is one more of sorrow than of anger, an acknowledgment of the tragic ironies of the situation rather than an indictment of the British.

He believes that Suttill and Norman behaved honourably, following orders that were designed, although neither they nor the French Section staff were aware of the fact, to set up the radio games that, along with

Dericourt's passing of the mail, would keep the German forces in the north-west of France in a constant state of expectation of invasion there between the spring and the autumn of 1943, when they might have been used against the Allies on other fronts. Although they were unaware of it, as he sees it the weapons he and the other Prosper agents wielded were the lies that successfully protected the real invasion plans.

What got left out in the transmission of Churchill's Secret Army was my exposition of the deal he got with the Germans, which, though unauthorized, seemed to me (and in retrospect to the Germans with whom I talked) to have worked to the British interest.

He was to give them the expected time and place of arrival of British aircraft, but they were not to arrest British agents landing on or departing from these aircraft or harm the aircraft; these concessions they made in the hope that when the time came he would give them the expected time and place of the Invasion. I remember saying on film, what his direct contact, Dr Goetz had said to me, that they had not the shred of a guarantee of his intention or indeed ability to do this, but Boemelburg (Oberststurmbannfuhrer, head of Geheimstaatspolizei, Paris) was quite carried away by it.

Naturally I am not saying Déricourt did not do anything wrong. Face to face with him, I told him he did do wrong. It was not fair to the agents landing to let them be trailed by the Gestapo from the railway station up as far as the Gare de Montparnasse, Paris, unwarned, if unharmed. What he was exposing them to, I put it to him, was the danger something might go wrong - as indeed it did go wrong in the case of the three who landed in November 1943 and were arrested in the Gare Montparnasse. Didn't he feel anything for them? He said "I am sorry for them. What else can I say?" It was not meant to happen. But what was it in a war? How many had Haig killed, in the Somme? And how many did I accuse him of killing? "Well, call it half a dozen in case there are one or two more you haven't discovered yet or even I don't know of." Against that, not a single agent leaving France for England had been stopped, and of those arriving in France, by far the greater number had proceeded unhindered. We had not the figures then but I now take them from Verity.

If Déricourt had felt his role totally shameful, surely he could not have sat for hours arguing the morality of it with me. Yes, he had made some money out of his contact with the Germans but it was for passing them contraband goods. "I was not selling heads! That would make me vile. I do not admit to be vile".

What, I asked him, did he really tell Bodington when the latter visited France in July-August 1943? Did he really tell him he was in contact with German Intelligence? He said, "I told him in such a way that he would know it for himself, yet could say that he had been told or not been told as suited him best. I said to myself "If I say 'I am working with the Germans' then he has to tell Buckmaster. But perhaps he doesn't want to tell Buckmaster." His great hope was that Bodington would take over from Buckmaster as head of F section. He was more intelligent than Buckmaster. With Nick as his chief, he would be open, explain his renewal of contact with Boemelburg and they would decide together how to use this to the British interest. But for now, it was better he should know it in such a way he could keep it for himself. What he actually said to Nick was, "I've been meeting old friends again." That could mean nothing, but he had not a doubt in the world Nick understood it as meaning he had made contact with Boemelburg. It was a matter of "Je sais que tu sais, et tu sais que je sais que tu" -"I know that you know; and you know that I know that you know"

The Germans expected Bodington to walk into a trap arranged over the German controlled radio-Archambaud. This he must not do. Yet if nobody walked into it, they would know he had warned Nick and they would both have been arrested. So Nick set Agazarian. It was an unhappy thing to have had to do. (Vogt had told me that Agazarian, when he was brought in as a prisoner, he expressed himself furious with Bodington who, he said, had sent him to the dangerous rendezvous being too fearful to go himself.) Spooner, however, when I had told him this, had said that if one or the other had to be caught it was "militarily" much better that it should be Agazarian who had little knowledge he could betray, than Bodington who knew the composition of every network in France. The could have mopped the lot up and this would have been the end of F Section.

DR Goetz, who had been detailed to act for Boemelburg (Kieffer's chief) to act as 'Gilbert's' direct contact, when in 1985 he accepted an invitation from me to come to England and spend a week-end at my house, told me that after the wrong man walked into the ambush, considerable pressure was put on Déricourt to tell them of some other place at which they could arrest Bodington and he kept telling them of places "where he was not." It became obvious he did not want them to have Bodington. It was he to whom "Gilbert" gave the time and place of British aircraft expected arrival. On receiving the details he, Goetz would then ring up the German anti-aircraft batteries and say, "British aircraft, such and such type, approaching from such and such making for such and such location: do NOT fire at it." So the aircraft had a protected flight.

Though it did look to me at a very early stage of my researches that both might be guilty, it now seems to me that the discrepancy between what Bodington wrote in his report on his return to London and what he later said at Déricourt's trial in Paris can be sufficiently explained by his understandable reluctance to say he had sent Agazarian to his death and why - which would have involved explaining all that lay behind it - without looking for anything more sinister. If Bodington had been a German agent the Germans would not have been trying to arrest him.

The evidence Bodington gave at Déricourt's trial was not so very false. He merely represented as having been explicit expressed in words what had been tacit but implicit. It should be remembered that the charge against Déricourt was expressly that he had betrayed Agazarian to the Germans. Déricourt would have had to reply 'not me Bodington' had not Bodington come and given evidence that would get them both off.

I owe no special consideration for Bodington as he never gave me an interview. But Déricourt gave me every cooperation, long hours of his time, during which he never took amiss the hard things I said to his face about what he had done and now that he is dead and unable to present his defence, I feel it a kind of loyalty to do that for him, as best I can - to hold the fort for him.

Tag: Henri Déricourt

Our story today originated as a result of an e-mail from one of our readers, Andrew B. who read our blog Double Agent or Bad Neighbor? (read here). Andrew pointed out that I had “missed a key point, 140 meters away from (where) Déricourt, lived Yvonne Grover-Williams.” Andrew went on to briefly describe Yvonne’s role during the German occupation of Paris.

Andrew was right about me missing this one on Yvonne and her story. To be honest, I had never run across this woman or her husband, William Charles Frederick Grover-Williams, head of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) CHESTNUT circuit in Paris. During the occupation, Yvonne lived at 21, rue Weber which was around the corner from Henri Déricourt’s apartment about five hundred feet away at 58, rue Pergolèse (and next door to the renown Nazi spy catcher, Hugo Bleicher) and not too far from Avenue Foch where various Gestapo units set up their offices including the infamous interrogation and torture cells on the fifth and sixth floors at number 84.

Exterior of Henri Déricourt’s apartment building: 58, rue Pergolèse. Photo by Sandy Ross (2017).

Well, that sent me down, yet another rabbit hole and I discovered a wonderful book by Joe Saward called The Grand Prix Saboteurs. Part of the story includes the years Yvonne spent as Sir William Orpen’s mistress, modeling for his paintings in some very suggestive nude poses. Then, with Orpen’s approval, she married the couple’s chauffeur.

Vera Atkins: Incredibly Brave British SOE Squadron Officer of World War Two

Early in WWII, the Germans were marching through Europe, and Britain was next. On July 16, 1940, the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, declared, “Set Europe ablaze!” Thus was born the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to do just that.

Vera Maria Rosenberg was born on June 16, 1908, in Galați, Romania to a German-Jewish father and a British-Jewish mother. She studied languages at the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris and went to finishing school in Switzerland before training to be a secretary in London.

Sadly, her father went bankrupt in 1932 and died shortly after, forcing her to return to Romania. By 1937, however, Romania’s new government were markedly pro-German and anti-Semitic. Being a smart woman, Rosenberg decided she was probably better off back in Britain. She began using her mother’s maiden name around that time.

Her gilded life had served a purpose, however. Her family’s wealth had enabled her to mingle with the upper crust – including several European diplomats. In 1940 she traveled to the Netherlands with money to bribe an Officer from the German military intelligence or Abwehr.

Squadron Officer Vera Atkins in 1946.

Her cousin was anxious to escape German-occupied Romania and needed a passport. With help from the Belgian resistance, she got her cousin out and made her way back to Britain. Atkins involvement in the escape was only discovered after she died when a British reporter investigated her life – a reflection of just how secretive she was.

She worked for a time as a translator and an oil company before joining the SOE as a secretary in 1941.

Churchill wanted to set Europe ablaze with sabotage operations to give Britain a fighting chance. Atkins’ language skills, intelligence, and composure got her a promotion – assistant to section head Colonel Maurice Buckmaster.

Secret radio service of the Abwehr. By Bundesarchiv – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Buckmaster lead the SOE’s French and Belgian section. Between 1941 and 1944, he smuggled 366 agents into France. There they financed and armed the French resistance for sabotage operations and gathered intelligence on the Nazi occupiers. They paid a high price – 118 agents died. Despite knowing the risks, they all volunteered to go.

Atkins played a major role in choosing who went. Once satisfied they stood a chance, she escorted them to the Tempsford airstrip in Bedfordshire and waved them off as they flew across the Channel. It was not easy. Atkins later claimed that it caused her enormous stress to realize she was likely sending them off to their deaths.

Among them were 37 women trained as couriers and wireless operators. Atkins’ job included ensuring they were appropriately clothed giving them proper documentation making sure they knew their target area well seeing to it their families received their pay, and sending coded messages via the BBC so agents in the field knew how their families were doing.

Sadly, the SOE made mistakes, especially in the early years. Henri Déricourt was an SOE agent and former French Air Force Pilot who flew the agents into France. He may also have been a Nazi double agent. Whatever the case, the Germans captured SOE agents, sent false information back to Britain, and even defrauded the SOE of money and supplies.

Assistant Section Officer Noor Inayat Khan in 1943, one of Atkins agents who died in a concentration camp and was posthumously awarded a George Cross.

Despite the warning signs, Buckmaster refused to believe his spy network had been compromised. In March 1941, the Abwehr forced a captured SOE radio operator to send misinformation back to his headquarters. He did so but also transmitted a code which meant he had been captured and was under duress. It made no difference.

Buckmaster accepted the information as valid, ignoring the extra code. As such, he received the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) award and the French Croix de Guerre after the war. It was also after the war, however, that he realized how badly he had let the SOE be compromised and how many people he had sent to their deaths.

While he could let it go, Atkins could not. By February 1944, she had become a British citizen and denied ever having made any errors in the SOE, stressing the agents were volunteers. She joined the British War Crimes Commission to gather evidence for the prosecution of war criminals.

After the war she visited concentration camps and interrogated guards, attempting to find out what had happened to the 118 missing persons she had sent off. Hugo Bleicher, the Abwehr officer who had broken most of the SOE agents, claimed she was the most formidable interrogator he had ever met.

Atkins even questioned Rudolf Hess, Commandant of Auschwitz. Asked if he was responsible for killing 1.5 million Jews, Hess replied no. The correct figure, he insisted, was 2,345,000. He was convicted at the Nuremberg Trials.

The SOE Memorial in Valençay in 2011. By Fabrice Dury CC-BY 3.0

In 1947 she was told the SOE was to be disbanded, and her search could no longer be funded. Using her contacts in MI6 (British Military Intelligence, Section 6), she obtained funding to continue her work.

She continued searching through documents, claiming she “could not just abandon their memory.” Atkins went on to explain “I was probably the only person who could do this. You had to know every detail of the agents, names, code-names, every hair on their heads, to spot their tracks.”

Although she never found them all, her work became the basis of the Roll of Honor at the Valençay SOE Memorial unveiled on May 6, 1991, in Loire, France. It lists 91 men and 13 women who gave their lives to free the French and may have given Atkins some peace when she finally passed away on June 24, 2000.

Danger women

Here, names carved with suitable pride, is the story of Churchill's Special Operations Executive, bearer of sabotage and subversion to Nazi-occupied Europe. Well-trodden ground over half a century, strewn with memoirs from almost everybody concerned (not to mention the stamp of historian MRD Foot).

Thus, at one level, there isn't much new left to say about the organisation that Hugh Dalton, Minister of Economic Warfare, wanted built like 'the Sinn Fein movement in Ireland'. But Marcus Binney, toiling through archives and interviews with those who survived, has found two themes which make a real difference.

One - Binney's central point - is to tell us that Odette Hallowes and Violette Szabo, heroines of later movie legend, were not alone, that SOE depended for its success and survival on finding girls in shops or typing pools who could speak a language (usually French) well enough to survive behind enemy lines. Add Virginia Hall, Noor Inayat Khan, Pearl Witherington and many more to this hall of fame.

The women who Colonel Maurice Buckmaster and his personnel amanuensis, the thriller writer Selwyn Jepson, recruited were often very young and totally inexperienced, but they were resourceful and brave. They deserve to be remembered for what they were, an ad-hoc sisterhood who went willingly to war, not a collection of individuals.

The second theme, however, reads somewhat less inspiritingly in the wake of 11 September. Was SOE, as John Keegan claims, 'unnecessarily dangerous to work for, ineffective in its pursuit of its aims and counter-productive in the results achieved'? Perhaps. It certainly didn't survive the end of the war, and the RAF, for one, would much have preferred to use the available cash on Bomber Command rather than maquis derring-do. At least, though, we have some chance of making an informed judgment. At least Special Operations, in Binney's words, 'is the only part of the secret services at this time for which a substantial archive is available'. What MI5 may at last be getting round to, in short, the SOE made possible long ago.

Dalton, following Churchill's orders, set out to create something which could 'co-ordinate all action by way of subversion and sabotage against the enemy overseas'. It 'would absorb some elements of existing organisations, but would be on a much greater scale, with much wider scope and largely manned by new personnel'. We know what they called it 62 years ago, but what might they have called it today? Try the Department for Homeland Security for starters.

Because the SOE is history - dead and gone - no one needs to protect its reputation any longer, to nurture or confect a record of supposedly constant success. No one needs dwell too long on the extenuating circumstances of true pressure in life-or-death conflict, either. The edifice that Dalton, Charles Hambro and Buckmaster built was always bound to be a touch rickety, constructed in haste from the materials at hand. But there's rickety. and rickety.

Take Paddy O'Sullivan, a slip of an Irish girl reporting to her circuit commander near Argenton. 'I was horrified,' he observed, 'when I found out she could not even ride a bicycle.' It was a vital skill. Her job, after all, was carrying messages. She'd had six weeks' demolition and weapon training, but they had to teach her to ride a bike, teetering anxiously along a public road.

Take the finest of all the woman agents, Christina Granville, and her partner, Andrew Kowerski, holed up in Cairo in 1942 when a Polish general gets an utterly wrong message about Kowerski's loyalty and leaves them both in the lurch. 'It's chaos,' one observer tells a visiting Anthony Eden. It's a stew of 'jealousy, suspicion and intrigue', concludes another. Come what may, no acts are ever got together and Granville herself is deserted at the end of the war, left to work as a teashop waitress and a second-class stewardess on a cruise ship. She didn't deserve that: she didn't deserve the forgetfulness of chaps who left her to scrape by and then, tragically, be murdered by a madman.

Take Violette Szabo, betrayed back at the ranch by the double agent, Henri Dericourt, who then escapes scot-free from an official inquiry. Or Noor Inayat Khan - 'Bang Away Lulu', they called her because of the way she battered out her Morse code - thrust into peril without proper security training, dispatched to Paris to make contact with a controller called Garry (because he looked like Gary Cooper) and asked to identify herself by declaring: 'Je viens de la part de votre ami Antoine pour des nouvelles au sujet de la Societe en Batiment.' 'Allo, 'allo, 'allo! She kept records of all the messages she'd sent. The Germans seized them and used them to destroy mission after mission, just as they broke the codes of the SOE in Holland and produced one of the great intelligence humiliations of the war.

When one SOE chief arrived in Normandy in June, 1944, he found at least 10 allegedly loyal organisations in German hands, dining on British food from botched parachute drops.

Yet these debacles - just a choice selected from a long, long list - aren't bucks to be left at Buckmaster's door. They are symptomatic of a condition which seems to have afflicted the Germans in equal measure. Christina Granville wafts back and forth across Nazi lines in eastern Europe time after time as though they didn't exist. Paola Del Din, a Friuli girl barely out of her teens, does the same in Italy. The Gestapo has women agents in the cells and ineptly turn them loose. Noor Inayat Khan escapes and nearly - so agonisingly nearly - wins her freedom. Paddy O'Sullivan runs a maquis region and shows us, along the way, how powerful the French Resistance was as D-Day came. Who really liberated the South of France? The Americans claimed the credit, but the French (with a little help from London) did the job.

We're used to thinking of occupied Europe as a cohesive area, conquered and ruled with a ruthless efficiency. It wasn't. War brings its own shambles and secret operations are an umbilical part of that bumbling mess. From 1941 to 11 September, 2001, nothing fundamental changes. The glory of remembering the SOE is that nobody minds admitting it. The courage of those who fought this special way is remarkable the chaos which so often engulfed them is part of the human condition.

Perhaps Binney never quite shapes the wealth of the material he's amassed into a tight enough thesis. These women, living for danger, largely stagger from crisis to crisis, chased by constant events. Only their sex and resilience unites them. But there are still many tales here worth telling and pictures which capture a particular quality. Granville's laconic beauty is timeless. Szabo has a heartrending fragility. Noor Inayat Khan's eyes, looking out from beyond the grave, are haunting.

It is a book to dip in and out of and relish. More than that, it captures a manic truth about terror - whether in the imbecility of an al-Qaeda hand trying to set off the bomb in his trainer aboard a jumbo jet or Virginia Hall hiking gallantly across the Pyrenees with the wooden leg she called Cuthbert.

Ahmadiyya Times

Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan was the eldest of four children. Her father Hazrat Inayat Khan came from a princely Indian Muslim family (He was a great-grandson of Tipu Sultan, the famous eighteenth century ruler of Mysore.). He lived in Europe as a musician and a teacher of Sufism.

Bottom: Noor’s memorial plaque at the Dachau Memorial Hall

Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch | Online
Source / Credit: Wikipedia | Excerpt
Selection by Ahmadiyya Times | September 6, 2010

Assistant Section Officer Noor Inayat Khan / Nora Baker, (Urdu: نور عنایت خان ) GC, MBE (1 January 1914, Moscow – 13 September 1944, Dachau concentration camp), usually known as Noor Inayat Khan was of Indian Muslim origin. She was a British Special Operations Executive agent in World War II and the first female radio operator to be sent into occupied France to aid the French Résistance.

Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan was the eldest of four children. Her father Hazrat Inayat Khan came from a princely Indian Muslim family (He was a great-grandson of Tipu Sultan, the famous eighteenth century ruler of Mysore.). He lived in Europe as a musician and a teacher of Sufism. Her mother, Ora Meena Ray Baker, was an American from Albuquerque, New Mexico who met Inayat Khan during his travels in the United States. Ora Baker was the half-sister of American yogi and scholar, Pierre Bernard, her guardian at the time she met Hazrat Inayat Khan. Noor Inayat Khan’s brother, Vilayat Inayat Khan, later became head of the Sufi Order International.

In 1914, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, the family left Russia for London and lived in Bloomsbury. Noor attended nursery at Notting Hill. In 1920, they settled in France, moving into a house in Suresnes near Paris. It was a gift from a benefactor of the Sufi movement. After the death of her father in 1927, Noor took on the responsibility for her grief-stricken mother and her younger siblings.
The young girl, described as quiet, shy, sensitive, and dreamy, studied child psychology at the Sorbonne and music at Paris conservatory under the famous Nadia Boulanger, composing for harp and piano. She started a career of writing poetry and children’s stories and became a regular contributor to children’s magazines and French radio. In 1939 her book, Twenty Jataka Tales, inspired by the Jātaka tales of Buddhist tradition, was published in London.

After the outbreak of World War II, when France was overrun by German troops in 1940, the family fled from Paris to Bordeaux and from there by sea to London, landing in Falmouth, Cornwall on 22 June 1940.

Although Noor Inayat Khan was deeply influenced by the pacifist teachings of her father, she and her brother Vilayat decided to help defeat Nazi tyranny.

“I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war. If one or two could do something in the Allied service which was very brave and which everybody admired it would help to make a bridge between the English people and the Indians.”

On 19 November 1940 she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), and as an Aircraftwoman 2nd Class, she was sent to be trained as a wireless operator.

Upon assignment to a bomber training school in June 1941, she applied for a commission in an effort to relieve herself of the boring work there. Later she was recruited to join F (France) Section of the Special Operations Executive and in early February 1943 she was posted to the Air Ministry, Directorate of Air Intelligence, seconded to First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), and sent to Wanborough Manor, near Guildford in Surrey, from there to various other SOE schools for training, including STS 5 Winterfold, STS 36 Boarmans and STS 52 Thame Park. During her training she adopted the name Nora Baker.

Her superiors held mixed opinions on her suitability for secret warfare, and her training was incomplete. Nevertheless, her fluent French and her competency in wireless operation—coupled with a shortage of experienced agents—made her a desirable candidate for service in Nazi-occupied France. On 16/17 June 1943, cryptonymed ‘Madeleine’/W/T operator ‘Nurse’ and under the cover identity of Jeanne-Marie Regnier, Assistant Section Officer/Ensign Inayat Khan was flown to landing ground B/20A ‘Indigestion’ in Northern France on a night landing double Lysander operation, code named Teacher/Nurse/Chaplain/Monk. She was met by Henri Dericourt.

She traveled to Paris, and together with two other women (Diana Rowden, code named Paulette/Chaplain, and Cecily Lefort, code named Alice/Teacher) Noor joined the Physician network led by Francis Suttill, code named Prosper. Over the next month and a half, all the other Physician network radio operators were arrested by the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). In spite of the danger, Noor rejected an offer to return to Britain. She continued to transmit as the last essential link between London and Paris. Moving from place to place, she managed to escape capture while maintaining wireless communication with London. “She refused to abandon what had become the most important and dangerous post in France and did excellent work.”

Imprisonment and death

Khan was betrayed to the Germans, either by Henri Dericourt or by Renée Garry. Dericourt (code name Gilbert) was an SOE officer and former French Air Force pilot who has been suspected of working as a double agent for the German Abwehr. Renée Garry was the sister of Emile Garry, Inayat Khan’s organizer in the Physician network.

On or around 13 October 1943 Inayat Khan was arrested and interrogated at the SD Headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch in Paris. Though SOE trainers had expressed doubts about Inayat Khan’s gentle and unworldly character, on her arrest she fought so fiercely that SD officers were afraid of her. She was thenceforth treated as an extremely dangerous prisoner. There is no evidence of her being tortured, but her interrogation lasted over a month. During that time, she attempted escape twice. Hans Kieffer, the former head of Gestapo in Paris, testified after the war that she didn’t give the Gestapo a single piece of information, but lied consistently.

Although Inayat Khan did not talk about her activities under interrogation, the SD found her notebooks. Contrary to security regulations, she had copied out all the messages she had sent as an SOE operative. Although she refused to reveal any secret codes, the Germans gained enough information from them to continue sending false messages imitating her. London failed to properly investigate anomalies which should have indicated the transmissions were sent under enemy control. And so three more agents sent to France were captured by the Germans at their parachute landing, among them Madeleine Damerment, who was later executed.

On 25 November 1943, Inayat Khan escaped from the SD Headquarters, along with fellow SOE Agents John Renshaw Starr and Leon Faye, but was captured in the immediate vicinity. Most unfortunately, there was an air raid alert as they escaped across the roof. Regulations required a count of prisoners at such times, and their escape was discovered before they could get away. After refusing to sign a declaration renouncing future escape attempts, Inayat Khan was taken to Germany on 27 November 1943 “for safe custody” and imprisoned at Pforzheim in solitary confinement as a “Nacht und Nebel” (“Night and Fog”) prisoner, in complete secrecy. For ten months, she was kept there handcuffed.

She was classified as “highly dangerous” and shackled in chains most of the time. As the prison director testified after the war, Inayat Khan remained uncooperative and continued to refuse to give any information on her work or her fellow operatives.

On 11 September 1944 Noor Inayat Khan and three other SOE agents from Karlsruhe prison, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman and Madeleine Damerment, were moved to the Dachau Concentration Camp. In the early hours of the morning, 13 September 1944, the four women were executed by a shot to the head. Their bodies were immediately burned in the crematorium. An anonymous Dutch prisoner emerging in 1958 contended that Noor Inayat Khan was cruelly beaten by a high-ranking SS officer named Wilhelm Ruppert before being shot from behind. Her last word was “Liberté”. She was 30 years old.

Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded a British Mention in Dispatches and a French Croix de Guerre with Gold Star. Khan was the third of three World War II FANY members to be awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry not on the battle field.

The Spy of Night and Fog

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In the very early hours of 17 June 1943, a few miles south of the rural commune of Tierce, France, two Lysander airplanes touched down in the dark on a makeshift airstrip. A secret agent disembarked from the cramped passenger compartment of one plane, and two emerged from the other. The agents were all women⁠&mdashtwo couriers and a radio operator. The latter, at 29 years of age, was a woman named Noor Inayat Khan. She was said to have an air of fragility accentuated by soft features and deep, dark eyes⁠&mdashnot exactly central casting’s first choice for a tough-as-nails spy from Great Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE).

SOE had been active since 1940, carrying on its mission of aiding resistance movements in the countries controlled by Nazi Germany. The organization sowed the seeds of chaos under the order of Winston Churchill to “set Europe ablaze” through sabotage, assassination, and shuttling downed Allied personnel to safety. For all the thrills of the posting, working for SOE had its drawbacks⁠&mdashthe life expectancy of an agent in occupied France was six weeks.

After the women disembarked, other operatives boarded the planes. The exchange took no more than 20 minutes before the planes took off again, bound for England and Allied territory. As for Khan, she was destined for Paris to join a ‘circuit’⁠&mdasha spy network.

As with all such exchanges, the three women were not alone. A contact agent, Henri Dericourt, was present with a bicycle ready for Khan. She pedaled off to a train station near Angers, some 10 miles away. From there, she transferred to rail for Paris. The next day, she reached her destination in the city: 40 rue Erlanger, 16e.

Khan, under the impression that her contact was an old woman, was to speak the pass phrase, “I have come on behalf of your friend Antoine for news about the building company.” But when the door opened, a man answered. Khan said with some nervousness, “I think I am expected.”

The man admitted her to the apartment, and introduced himself as Emile Henri Garry. Another woman was present, whom Garry introduced as his fiancée. There were long pauses in awkwardness as Garry offered Khan cigarettes, which she accepted. Finally, the fiancée, sensing that perhaps she should leave the room, excused herself to make coffee.

Khan blurted out the pass phrase, “I have come on behalf of your friend Antoine for news about the building company!” Garry replied the correct response, “The business is in hand.”

Noor Inayat Khan was born in the Vusoko Petrovsky monastery in Moscow on New Year’s Day, 1914. Her father, Inayat Khan, was from a noble Muslim Sufi family in India a musician of classical Indian music who was one of the key figures in bringing the pacifism of Universal Sufism to the West. He was a descendant of Tipu Sultan, the so-called “Tiger of Mysore” who had resisted British imperialism in India in the 18th century⁠&mdashsomething the family kept quiet for political purposes.

Khan’s mother, Ora Ray Baker, was American. She had met Inayat Khan at a lecture he delivered in San Francisco. They fell in love and married in 1913. Ora Ray adopted the name Amina Sharada Begum. Her family never forgave her for marrying a foreigner, and she severed all ties with them. She travelled with her new husband and his fellow musicians around the world. In addition to Noor, whom they nicknamed Babuli, “Papa’s Darling,” they had three other children.

Soon after the Treaty of Versailles ended the First World War, the Khans relocated to a home north of Paris. The family made occasional excursions abroad, and it was on one such journey in February 1927, while Inayat was on a pilgrimage to India, that he died of pneumonia. His wife Amina was devastated, and viewed Inayat’s death as a betrayal. She withdrew into herself, leaving Noor, as the eldest child, to care for the family. Noor was just thirteen years old.

Khan tended to her siblings when they grew ill, attended household chores, and ordered all provisions. But she was not resentful. She was dedicated to her family and even spent time to compose poems to her mother to pull her out of despondency.

Khan shared a creative streak with her siblings. They were all musicians, Khan playing both the harp and the piano. Besides the poetry, she also wrote children’s stories. She studied music at the prestigious Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, and then went on to study child psychology.

During this period, Khan published children’s books, mostly adaptations of folklore and legends. She planned on starting a children’s newspaper. It seemed that she was destined to become a writer. But then World War II broke out in 1939. Khan faced a moral dilemma. She had been raised in the pacifist spirit of Universal Sufism. But she and her family loathed the Nazis’ racist ideology and murderous extremism. Her brother said:

“If an armed Nazi comes to your house and takes twenty hostages and wants to exterminate them, would you not be an accomplice in these deaths, if you had the opportunity to kill him (and thereby prevent these deaths) but did not do so because of your belief in non-violence? How can we preach spiritual morality without participating in preventive action? Can we stand by and just watch what the Nazis are doing?”

Khan thought it more true to her principles to help defeat Nazism in the most active sense. At first, she and her sister trained as nurses, but when France fell in June 1940, they fled the country for London.

Now, more than ever, Khan wanted to do all she could for the war effort. She volunteered and joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) on 19 November 1940. She used the name Nora and registered her religion as “Church of England” to avoid complications. To blend in, she even attended Anglican Church services and never talked about her family.

Khan was in the first group of WAAFs to be trained as radio operators. She became proficient, which⁠&mdashcoupled with her French connection⁠&mdashbrought her to the attention of Special Operations Executive. They summoned her for an interview.

SOE was in desperate need of radio operators who spoke French like a native. Khan interviewed with Captain Selwyn Jepsen on 10 November 1942, who liked her immediately. He noted Khan’s gentle nature and added that she had “an intuitive sense of what might be in my mind for her to do.” She was recruited in just one interview while most other agents required three. She officially joined SOE on 8 February 1943.

Khan began basic operations training at SOE’s facilities in Wanborough. Recruits performed 10-minute runs in the morning followed by lessons in shooting, handling grenades, and using explosives. After a grueling day of training, recruits were allowed⁠&mdashin fact, encouraged⁠&mdashto drink freely at a bar in Wanborough. Agents observed the recruits to see if they divulged information or were easily intoxicated.

Khan’s trainers were divided on her capabilities. One noted she was “pretty scared of weapons.” To counter this, the SOE commandant admitted that while she had a “timid manner,” she “would probably rise to an emergency.”

Khan’s most glowing review was by Lance Corporal Gordan, who was struck by her character:

“She is a person for whom I have the greatest admiration. Completely self-effacing and un-selfish. [sic] The last person whose absence was noticed, extremely modest, even humble and shy, always thought everyone better than herself, very polite. Has written books for children. Takes everything literally, is not quick, studious rather than clever. Extremely conscientious.”

After Khan completed the basic training, she was sent to specialist signal training. Notably, Khan was the first woman selected for the course, perhaps because SOE was plagued with shortages of field radio operatives. Of the various field agent positions, a radio operator was considered the most hazardous occupation, since operators needed to carry around their incriminating equipment with them. They reportedly had the highest casualty and capture rate among SOE agents.

Again, her trainers were divided. What one might think her greatest strength, her character, could be a liability in the world of espionage. On 19 April 1943, an instructor reported,

“She confesses that she would not like to do anything ‘two-faced,’ by which she means deliberately cultivating friendly relations with malice aforethought…. It is the emotional side of her character, coupled with a vivid imagination, which will most test her steadfastness of purpose in the later stages of her training.”

That later stage of her training was at the “Finishing School” among the ruins of a medieval abbey in Beaulieu, Hampshire. Weapons experiments, frogman training, agent avoidance, and setting up radio aerials were just some of the surreptitious work occurring there. Much of the training was practical. For example, recruits were sent out in the field and arrested to see if they could hold their cover stories. But because of the need for field agents, Khan’s training was abbreviated. There was no time to train in parachuting, lock-picking, and safe-breaking.

In some cases, Khan’s open honesty was puzzling. One instructor reported that during her training, a policeman stopped her on her bicycle and asked what she was doing. She replied, “I’m training to be an agent. Here’s my radio⁠&mdashwant me to show it to you?”

Khan’s lowest moment came during a mock Gestapo interrogation. These were carried out by Maurice Buckmaster, the head of the French section of SOE. When the time came, Khan was pulled out of her bed and forced into an interrogation room. Bright lights blazed in her face as she faced a panel of faux “Gestapo” officers in full Nazi dress. Like others, she would have been stripped and forced to stand for hours while questions were fired at her. Khan had to repeat her cover story over and over.

Khan did not fare well. A witness to the session recalled:

“She seemed absolutely terrified. One saw that the lights hurt her, and the officer’s voice when he shouted very loudly … She was so overwhelmed, she nearly lost her voice. As it went on she became practically inaudible. Sometimes there was only a whisper. When she came out afterwards, she was trembling and quite blanched.”

Some of her trainers doubted she would hold up under pressure if she was ever captured.

The final training took place in mid-May 1943 in Bristol. Khan entered the city with a cover story to recruit contacts, organize safe drop boxes for messages, and locate an apartment from where she could transmit messages. All the while, she was trailed by SOE staff assessing her every move. She performed the tasks admirably, but had trouble with a set-up false arrest and interrogation (albeit not Gestapo style). The trainers found that Khan made mistakes during the interrogation and offered more information than she should have.

In the end, Khan’s instructors were still divided over whether she was cut out to be an agent. She seemed nervous and emotional. Some of her colleagues who would survive through the war would later say that she was far too conspicuous.

On 21 May, Colonel Frank Spooner submitted a pointed, negative evaluation of Khan:

“Not overburdened with brains but has worked hard and shown keenness, apart from some dislike of the security side of the course. She has an unstable and temperamental personality and it is very doubtful whether she is really suited to work in the field.”

Spooner later asserted that he wrote the harsh report to protect Khan. At the time, the report angered Maurice Buckmaster, who supported her. But Buckmaster also heard doubts from others. Another assessment read:

“From reports on the girl I suggest that care be taken that she be not given any task which might set up a mental conflict with her idealism. This might render her unstable from our point of view.”

On the other hand, Khan had three points strongly in her favor. She spoke French like a native, she was an excellent radio operator, and SOE desperately needed French-speaking radio operators. Buckmaster sent Khan into France.

French Resistance was organized into spy networks called circuits, which were further divided into subnetworks. After arriving in Paris and blurting out the enigmatic “building company” pass phrase to Emile Henri Garry, she found herself incorporated into his “Cinema Circuit.” Garry’s circuit was a subcircuit of the larger “Prosper” spy network. Her code name was Madeleine, and her cover name was Jeanne-Marie Renier, a student at the College of Agriculture in Grignon. In case of trouble, she was to go to a safehouse, a bookseller on Rue de Passy. If there was no other way to escape, she would be forced to abscond through Spain, whose government was purportedly neutral in the war.

At the time of Khan’s arrival, Prosper was quite a large series of networks, and influencing the direction of the war. Prosper coordinated sabotage operations on power plants, oil stockpiles, and attacks on trains. Khan’s role was to relay messages to and from Garry’s subcircuit.

Khan made her first call to London a little less than 72 hours after her arrival. This in itself was impressive, and was the fastest check-in upon arrival by any agent. Still, transmissions needed to be brief the Germans used radio direction-finders constantly in their counter-intelligence efforts. She also met fellow agents, and due to her natural, gregarious personality, got on well with her new colleagues.

Khan, however, did show signs of carelessness. She did not always follow French customs, such as putting in milk last when making tea. When she was visiting some of her colleagues at the cover of a college, she left a portfolio containing security codes in an entrance hall. One of the French agents, a professor, gave her the papers back, warning her not to trust anybody.

Before Khan could any do real work for Cinema, everything began to unravel. On 21 June 1943, the Gestapo arrested two Canadian SOE agents. One of the agents had a distinct Canadian accent when speaking French, giving away their cover. In their possession was not just a radio, but the contact information to key members of the Prosper network. This led to arrests and infiltration. Further blundering on SOE’s part led to the complete collapse of the spy ring by early July. In the book Spy Princess, a biography of Noor Khan, the author Shrabani Basu comments that Prosper “…had grown too large, and it was inevitable that it would infiltrated.” In the commotion that followed, Khan barely escaped, and she went into hiding in Paris.

It was Khan who informed SOE of Prosper’s collapse. By late July, the last circuit members who could escape did so. Maurice Buckmaster sent a message to Khan stating that it was far too dangerous for her to remain alone in France. Khan, however, stated that she wanted to stay since she was the last radio operator in Paris, and she knew that if a new circuit was to be built, she would be a crucial ingredient. Buckmaster acquiesced, though it was virtually certain that she would be captured.

In the following months, Khan relayed data back to SOE regarding the remnants of spy circuits, and locations for where to drop supplies for the resistance. She provided information to rescue two American airmen hiding in Paris. In the same way, she also assisted in the escape of 30 other Allied airmen who had survived being shot down over France.

All this time, Khan stayed one step ahead of the Gestapo by constantly moving from place to place to transmit. She dyed her hair various colors and used assorted disguises. Once, she was cornered by two German officers on the metro. They noticed her suitcase, which carried her secret transmitter. They asked her what was in the case. “A cinematograph projector,” Khan replied. She opened the case slightly, allowing the officers to peer inside. “There are the little bulbs. Haven’t you seen one before?” Apparently, her confidence and boldness embarrassed the Germans so much that they accepted her story, and did not detain her.

But Khan’s capture was only a matter of time. The Gestapo had obtained her description and were on the lookout. SOE advised Khan to return. Again, she pleaded to stay and promised to lay low.

On approximately 13 October 1943, agents of the Nazi Sicherheitsdienst (SD) located and arrested Noor Inayat Khan and brought her to the SD Headquarters in Paris for interrogation. It is uncertain how they identified her as a spy, though historians suspect she was betrayed by Renée Garry, sister of Emile Garry, head of the Cinema circuit. Or Khan may have been outed by Henri Dericourt, an SOE officer who was later suspected as an SD double agent. By all reports Khan did not disclose her SOE connections or activities, but among her effects the German counterintelligence officers found a comprehensive written record of her clandestine messages. Apparently she had misunderstood her order “to be extremely careful with the filing of your messages,” where “filing” meant “transmission,” but Khan mistook that for record-keeping. Khan was taken prisoner. On her first night, she tried to escape through a bathroom window, but she was quickly recaptured.

The head of the Paris SD office, Major Hans Josef Kieffer, used a light touch on Khan, maintaining her in decent conditions while engaging in pleasant, seemingly innocuous conversations and interrogations. While Khan never divulged any information about SOE, she did give personal details about her family life which she thought harmless.

With these personal details and with Khan’s files, the Germans transmitted false messages in Madeleine’s name within a few weeks. Originally, it was reported to SOE that she had been captured in October, but when the Germans started transmitting in her name, Buckmaster and other SOE officers believed Khan had eluded capture once again. The SD so completely fooled SOE that Buckmaster recommended Khan for a medal on 24 February 1944, thinking she was still free. The fake transmissions led to the capture and execution of other SOE operatives, as well as the seizure of Allied monies meant to fund resistance operations.

Meanwhile, Khan and two fellow imprisoned agents attempted to escape. They managed to obtain a screwdriver, which they used to loosen their cell bars. On 25 November 1943, the three broke out and escaped to the roof. Unfortunately, an air raid sounded. The prisoners’ cells were found empty and the Germans caught them shortly thereafter. Were it not for the bad luck of the air raid siren, the prisoners may have made good on their escape.

Kieffer chose neither to execute nor torture Khan. Instead, he asked for her word of honor that she would not try to escape again. Khan refused. On 27 November, Kieffer sent her to the Pforzheim prison in Germany, categorized as a dangerous prisoner. Khan was kept as a “Nacht und Nebel” prisoner, a term which means “night and fog.” It was a phrase applied to prisoners who were considered highly dangerous, and they were therefore made to “disappear.”

At Pforzheim, Khan was kept on minimal rations in solitary confinement. No one but the German wardens spoke to her. Her arms and legs were shackled night and day with a third chain connecting her arms and feet. She also suffered beatings. But she did not divulge any secrets. The governor of the prison, taking sympathy upon the woman, ordered her unshackled, but this was countermanded by Gestapo headquarters.

Given her solitary confinement, Khan’s stay at the prison might have been lost to history, but she managed to smuggle word of her presence to other female prisoners by scratching messages on the back of a meal bowl that circulated among them. She did not give her real name, writing that it was too dangerous. Rather, she used her mother’s maiden name, identifying herself as Nora Baker, a Radio Centre Officer of the Royal Air Force.

As the months passed, Khan grew frailer. Still she would not give up any information. Often, the women in the nearby cells heard her weep herself to sleep.

On 11 September 1944, Khan was relocated with two other female prisoners to the notorious Dachau concentration camp. While there are conflicting versions as to what happened to her there, the most reasonable case is made by biographer Shrabani Basu, who had access to accounts not available in prior decades. Accoring to Basu, after Khan arrived at Dachau, she was stripped, beaten, and probably raped by a guard named Ruppert. She lay unconscious in her cell bruised and bleeding. On 13 September, she was shot in the head. Some accounts have her executed with the other two prisoners, and others have her being shot in her cell. Her last word was reported to be, “Liberté.” Khan’s body was cremated. The location of her ashes is unknown.

On 16 January 1946, Charles De Gaulle posthumously awarded Noor Khan with the French gold star⁠&mdashthe Croix de Guerre⁠&mdashwhich cited her for courageously escaping from and fighting the enemy. Great Britain also awarded her the George Cross in 1949 for her moral and physical courage. Plaques commemorate her valor in both Britain and France. In 1952, Jean Overton Fuller wrote a biography of Noor Khan, but she remained largely forgotten by history until a new biography was written in 2007 by Shrabani Basu.

Noor Inayat Khan, a pacifist driven by war to fight and ultimately die for her idealism, still inspires admiration today. In 2018, historians and activists campaigned to feature her likeness on a new pound note. The campaign failed with the Bank of England, who preferred a scientific figure. Even so, Khan’s story persists despite her flaws⁠&mdashflaws that indeed made her imperfect as a spy, but also humanized her, made her relatable, and gave her the resolve not to break when it counted.

‘Perfect for the job’

Noor, who was fluent in French, was recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a secret British organisation that sent spies to help local resistance movements in occupied Europe.

Fully aware of the highly dangerous nature of the assignment, combined with little monetary compensation, Noor immediately accepted the offer.

In June 1943, Khan was sent to France under the code name “Madeleine”, the first woman wireless operator to be deployed to the country by the UK. After landing in the city of Le Mans, Noor travelled to Paris, where she would work with the French resistance network “Prosper”.

Within days of her deployment, all the high-ranking Prosper agents were captured by the Nazis, and their wireless sets seized, leaving Noor as the only operator in the field for the next few months.

Noor Inayat Khan in the RAF uniform [File: Courtesy of Shrabani Basu] After seemingly being betrayed by one of her colleagues, she was captured by the Gestapo in October the same year and taken to Germany a month later.

The Gestapo considered Noor a highly dangerous prisoner, who had never given up anyone to the Germans and had tried escaping twice under their watch, according to the accounts in the book.

During her near one-year imprisonment, she was tortured, and shackled. Later, she was moved to Dachau concentration camp near Munich, where she was shot alongside three other SOE agents.

According to Spy Princess, Noor’s interrogator in Paris, Ernst Vogt, told Jean Overton Fuller, a friend and author of Khan’s 1952 biography Madeleine, how he had never come across someone like her and “admired her courage, bravery and kindness”.

He [Vogt] once asked her whether she had wasted her life by joining the service and that her sacrifice was in vain … she replied it did not matter. She had served her country and that was recompense.


Avant-Guerre Modifier

Henri est le troisième enfant d'une famille modeste. Le père est facteur. La mère, orpheline, a été élevée par des religieuses.

Sa scolarité s'effectue à l'école primaire de Boulogne-sur-Seine jusqu'en 1919. Ensuite, il poursuit celle-ci à l'école primaire de Jonquières dans l'Oise. C'est dans cette dernière qu'il obtient son certificat d'études. C'est à l'école primaire supérieure de Beauvais qu'il décroche son brevet élémentaire ainsi que son brevet d'enseignement primaire supérieure en juillet 1925 . Il intègre par la suite l'école nationale des arts et métiers à Paris, mais il n'y reste qu'un an. Il se blesse en jouant au football et a été convalescent pendant près d'un an.

En 1927, il est reçu à un concours pour intégrer les services des Postes, télégraphes et téléphones. Après une formation de 8 mois, il commence à travailler en mars 1928 au bureau de poste de Paris 16ème en tant qu'employé de bureau.

Passionné d'aviation depuis l'enfance, Déricourt se trouve au Bourget dans la foule qui accueille Charles Lindbergh le 21 mai 1927 , après sa traversée de l'Atlantique. En 1930, ayant reçu une formation, Déricourt obtient un brevet de pilote à l'école d'aviation Farman à Toussus-le-Noble [ 1 ] , alors second aérodrome de Paris après Le Bourget. Un peu plus tard, à la fin de son service militaire, il décroche un nouveau brevet, celui de sergent-pilote de réserve. Il fait connaissance de Rémy Clément, pilote comme lui, de dix ans son aîné.

En novembre 1935 , Didier Daurat, le patron de l'ancienne Aéropostale, l'engage comme pilote à la compagnie Air Bleu, qu'il a créée et qui, basée au Bourget, distribue le courrier dans tout l'Hexagone.

En 1936, Déricourt devient membre de la Société météorologique de France [ 2 ] .

Le 31 mars 1937 , il dépose, avec R.A. Marotin un brevet [ 3 ] sur un « procédé et dispositif pour la détermination de la vitesse et de la dérive d'un mobile et notamment d’un aéronef. » [ 4 ]

À la fin de l'année 1937, il s'attaque au record d'altitude sur Caudron "Rafale" [ 5 ] .

En 1938, Bodington présente Déricourt au Kriminalrat Karl Bömelburg, en mission à Paris, futur patron de la Gestapo en France.

La Guerre Modifier

Au commencement des hostilités, Déricourt est incorporé à la Section aérienne de Transport basée à Étampes il convoie des avions vers le front au Nord. En 1940, muté à Marseille-Marignane, Déricourt évacue des appareils vers le Sud. Il est pilote d'essai d'un bombardier d'avant-garde puis d'un autogire.

En juin, l'armistice interrompt les essais. Déricourt retourne à l'aviation civile. Engagé par Air France, il se lie avec des membres de la pègre [ 6 ] . Il se livre aussi à un trafic de marché noir avec un certain Bladier, de Paris.

À l'occasion d'une escale à Alep (juin ou juillet 1941 ), un colonel de l'Intelligence Service propose à Déricourt de passer en Grande-Bretagne. Déricourt accepte. Il rentre à Marseille, afin de mettre sa femme Jeannot à l'abri du besoin, puis il est pris en charge par le MI9.

En novembre 1941 , à Marseille, Déricourt signe un contrat avec la SCLAM (société de livraison réservée aux ministères). Puis, grâce à un de ses anciens compagnons pilotes, Léon Doulet, il entre en relation avec l'ambassade américaine, relais possible sur la route de l'Angleterre.

À la fin de cette année, Déricourt revoit Bömelburg. C'est à ce moment-là probablement qu'il fut recruté comme agent (V-Mann ou homme de confiance) BOE 48.

Déricourt est alors dirigé sur la Pat-Line, la filière d'évasion d'Albert Guérisse, dit Pat O'Leary (dépendant du MI9). Sitôt après cette prise de contact, Déricourt est convoqué à Londres [ 7 ] .

Le 15 août 1942 , Déricourt et Doulet franchissent la passerelle du HMS Tarana (en fait un chalutier armé en guerre, mitrailleuses et canon dissimulés sous des filets de pêche), à Narbonne-plage, avec sept autres personnes [ 8 ] . Le bâtiment des "Special Flotillas" met alors le cap sur Gibraltar. Après une semaine sur le Rocher, les deux voyageurs se retrouvent dans un convoi d'une cinquantaine de navires qui s'achemine vers les îles britanniques.

Le 7 septembre 1942 , Déricourt et Doulet débarquent à Greenock, Écosse, où des agents de la "Special Branch" les attendent pour les conduire à Londres. Là, ils passent quatre jours à la Patriotic School, le centre d'interrogatoire et de filtrage du MI5. Puis ils sont séparés.

Dès la fin du mois de septembre, Déricourt aurait été parachuté en France, sans doute pour le compte du MI6 [ 9 ] .

Le 3 décembre 1942 , Déricourt signe l' Official Secret Act. Il déclare ses contacts avec les Allemands il cite les noms des membres des Commissions d'armistice qui furent ses passagers à Marseille ainsi que ceux des pilotes de la Lufthansa qu'il a fréquentés au Bourget avant la guerre. Le jugement porté sur lui est très favorable. Un seul point noir : ses allées et venues en France, qui peuvent avoir attiré l'attention des Allemands.

Mais, sur l'intervention de Bodington, la difficulté est tranchée et Déricourt est engagé à titre de lieutenant de la RAF, détaché au SOE. On l'envoie alors à Tempsford, base des "Moon Squadrons", les escadrilles 138 et 161, sans même le faire passer par les stages de sécurité et d'entraînement, signe d'une probable protection particulière.

Mission en France. Sa mission consiste : • à trouver des terrains d’atterrissage appropriés (LZ = landing zones) • à organiser les mouvements aériens : réception et retour des agents (des autres réseaux) • à acheminer le courrier qui lui sera remis (de la main à la main, ou dans des boîtes aux lettres) il s'agit de tout ce qui ne peut pas être transmis par radio en morse : rapports trop longs, plans, photos, courrier personnel, documents non codés, paraphrases codées de messages radio déjà envoyés. Il ne dispose pas d'un opérateur radio propre [ 10 ] : il devra faire transiter ses messages par Jack Agazarian l'opérateur du réseau Prosper-PHYSICIAN.

Dans la nuit du 22/ 23 janvier 1943 , un avion Halifax emmène Déricourt, ainsi que Jean Worms « Robin » qui vient établir le réseau JUGGLER [ 11 ] , [ 12 ] , [ 13 ] . Ils sont parachutés « blind », c'est-à-dire sans comité de réception au sol, à Fréville-du-Gâtinais, vers Vitry-aux-Loges, à l'est d'Orléans. Un faux départ avait eu lieu le 14 décembre 1942 .

Vers le 30 janvier 1943 , Déricourt revoit Bömelburg devenu chef de la Gestapo de Zone Nord et, à partir de ce moment-là, s'affiche avec lui au Bristol, hôtel de grand luxe réservé aux hauts dignitaires du Reich. Commence alors une collaboration visible avec le SD. Par prudence, Bömelburg communique avec Déricourt par l'intermédiaire de ses subordonnés : Josef Götz et son chef direct, Hans Kieffer [ 14 ] .

En mars 1943 , Déricourt et Rémy Clément recherchent et identifient des terrains susceptibles de servir aux atterrissages. Ils vérifient également les LZ du réseau SCIENTIST, que Claude de Baissac « David » anime dans le sud-ouest. Dans la nuit du 17/18, Déricourt réalise son premier pick-up sur le terrain situé à 4,5 km au nord de Marnay (Vienne), au sud de Poitiers. C'est un doublé de Lysander, qui déposent Francine Agazarian, John Goldsmith, Pierre Lejeune, Roland Dowlen, et remmènent Claude de Baissac, France Antelme, Raymond Flower et son opérateur radio. Dans les mois qui suivent, il travaillera principalement au profit du réseau Prosper-PHYSICIAN, et organisera les déplacements par avion de plus de 67 agents, dont Noor Inayat Khan, Vera Leigh, Yolande Beekman, Éliane Plewman, Diana Rowden, Jack Agazarian, Francis Suttill, Pearl Witherington et Lise de Baissac.

À l'été, la Gestapo arrête de nombreux agents du SOE en France. Le bruit court qu'un agent double a infiltré les réseaux. Plusieurs agents, dont Francis Cammaerts, Jack Agazarian et Francis Suttill sont convaincus que Déricourt est le coupable. Ces soupçons empirent quand on apprend que Déricourt habite un appartement qui jouxte celui loué par Hugo Bleicher de l’Abwehr, rue Pergolèse, à Paris.

En juillet 1943 , un autre agent, Henri Frager, dit à Nicolas Bodington, alors en mission en France pour analyser l'effondrement du réseau Prosper-PHYSICIAN, que Déricourt est un espion allemand. Bodington écarte cette théorie, arguant du fait que Déricourt s'était chargé de son voyage en France et qu’il n'avait pas été arrêté. Quand Bodington refuse d’agir, certains agents commencent à penser que Bodington lui aussi est un agent double.

Peu de temps après, Michel Pichard informe Maurice Buckmaster, chef de la section F à Londres, qu'il a entendu dire de bonne source qu'un « Français responsable des opérations aériennes dans les régions de Paris et d’Angers » travaillait pour l'Abwehr. Buckmaster, comme Bodington avant lui, écarte les charges contre Déricourt et lui permet de continuer son travail.

Dans la nuit du 16 au 17 septembre 1943 , un opérateur radio affecté à FARRIER, A. Watt « Geoffroi », est déposé en Lysander sur le terrain BRONCHITE, près de Tours [ 15 ]

En février 1944 , Déricourt est rappelé à Londres. Sur avis défavorable du MI5, il n'est plus renvoyé en France. Il séjourne dans un premier temps au Savoy Hotel, puis à Stratford-upon-Avon chez Gerry Morel [ 16 ] .

Après la victoire, l'interrogatoire de policiers ennemis impliqués fait clairement apparaître que Déricourt est coupable d'avoir fourni des informations à l'Abwehr et à la Gestapo, que ce double jeu avait entraîné l'effondrement de plusieurs réseaux et sous-réseaux, l'arrestation et l'exécution de nombreux agents, dont Noor Inayat Khan, Vera Leigh, Yolande Beekman, Éliane Plewman, Diana Rowden, Gilbert Norman, Jack Agazarian, Francis Suttill et Pierre Mulsant. Il dénonça également le capitaine Bernard Guillot, agent des forces françaises combattantes. [réf. nécessaire]

Le 13 février 1945 , au cours d'un voyage à Londres, Déricourt est arrêté. Il est en possession de devises et d'or.

Après-Guerre Modifier

En novembre 1946 , Déricourt est remis aux autorités françaises. Il est accusé d'avoir donné à la Gestapo l'officier du SOE Jack Agazarian.

En juin 1948 , Déricourt comparaît devant le tribunal militaire, caserne de Reuilly. Au procès, Nicolas Bodington se déclare responsable de toute l’activité de Déricourt sur le terrain. Il admet s'être rendu compte que Déricourt était en contact avec les Allemands mais affirme qu'aucune information importante n'avait été révélée. Pendant le procès, la défense argue du fait que, bien que l’accusation soit en mesure d'apporter de nombreux indices indirects confortant les soupçons à l’encontre de Déricourt, elle ne pourrait réellement apporter la preuve d'aucun acte précis de trahison. C’est en grande partie grâce au témoignage de Nicolas Bodington que Déricourt est finalement acquitté, le 7 juin .

Il semble que Déricourt ait été, d'un bout à l'autre, traité par le MI6 et que son travail pour le compte du SOE n'ait été qu'une simple couverture de ses prises de contact avec des services ennemis. Cette hypothèse est soutenue par un dirigeant du SOE, Harry Sporborg, qui fut chargé de cribler Déricourt de retour en Grande-Bretagne, en février 1944 : "Dans mon esprit il n'a jamais fait aucun doute que Déricourt était employé par le MI6 à des fonctions situées hors de la sphère d'opérations du SOE."

Déricourt est alors embauché par l'aviation civile d'Indochine.

Entre 1952 et 1953 ainsi qu'en 1958, il effectue des observations archéologiques aériennes au Laos et au Cambodge [ 17 ] .

Le 7 mai 1957 , Jean Overton Fuller commence à interviewer Déricourt pour les besoins de son livre Agent double. Déricourt affirme que les chefs du SOE savaient parfaitement que l'organisation avait été pénétrée par la Gestapo et que des hommes et des femmes avaient été délibérément sacrifiés afin de mystifier les services allemands au sujet des débarquements prévus en Sicile et en Normandie. Déricourt admit avoir trahi quatre personnes : le colonel Émile Bonotaux amené sur le vol CURATOR/ACOLYTE du 23/ 24 juin 1943 (vol n o 7 du tableau récapitulatif de la section suivante) et trois personnes amenées sur le vol CONJURER du 15/ 16 novembre 1943 (vol n o 15) : Jean Menesson, Paul Pardi et André Maugenet [ 18 ] .

Le 20 novembre 1962 , Déricourt meurt dans un accident d’avion, au Laos, au-dessus du Triangle d’or, dans la province de Sayaboury. Son corps n'ayant jamais été retrouvé, certains auteurs ont avancé l'hypothèse que sa mort pouvait avoir été truquée pour lui permettre de commencer une nouvelle vie sous un autre nom [ 19 ] .

Le tableau suivant donne la liste des vols organisés par Henri Déricourt, établie à partir de celle d'Hugh Verity.

n o


type avion

passagers aller, vers la France

passagers retour, vers l'Angleterre
1 TRAINER 17/18 mars 1943 sans nom
Sud de Poitiers
4,5 km N de Marnay
Lysander 2 4 : Francine Agazarian (en) , major John Goldsmith (en) , Pierre Lejeune, Roland Dowlen. 4 : Claude de Baissac, France Antelme, Raymond Flower, André Dubois
2 SALESMAN 14/15 avril 1943 BRONCHITE Lysander 2 4 : André Dubois, Henri Frager, Philippe Liewer, Gabriel Chartrand 1 : Marcel Clech
3 SCULPTOR 15/16 avril 1943 sans nom
N. de Tours
1 km E/NE de La Chartre-sur-le-Loir
Lysander 1 2 : Pierre Natzler, un vieux Belge 1 : Julienne Aisner (en)
4 TOMMY 22/23 avril 1943 TORTICOLIS Lysander 2 [ 20 ] 0 1 : Henri Déricourt
5 INVENTOR 14/15 mai 1943 GRIPPE Lysander 2 4 : Julienne Aisner (en) , Vera Leigh, Sydney Jones, Marcel Clech 2 : Francis Suttill, Madame Gouin [ 21 ] ?
6 TEACHER 16/17 juin 1943 INDIGESTION Lysander 2 4 : Charles Skepper, Diana Rowden, Cecily Lefort, Noor Inayat Khan 5 : Gaby Pierre-Bloch, Jack Agazarian, Francine Agazarian (en) , Pierre Lejeune, Victor Gerson ?, Lucien Rachet ?
23/24 juin 1943 BRONCHITE Lysander 1 2 : Robert Lyon, Colonel Émile Bonotaux 2 : Richard Heslop, P. Taylor
(8) [ 22 ] ATHLETE
(1 er essai)
17/18 juill. 1943 GRIPPE Lysander (Isidore Newman, X)
(2 e essai)
19/20 juill. 1943 GRIPPE Lysander 1 2 : Isidore Newman, X 3 : France Antelme, William Savy, Henri Déricourt
9 GAMEKEEPER 22/23 juill. 1943 ACHILLE Hudson 1 3 : Nicolas Bodington, Jack Agazarian, Adelin Marissael 3 : Louis Latimer « Raoul », Jean-Pierre Carrez, Joseph Pans
10 DIPLOMAT 16/17 août 1943 TORTICOLIS Lysander 1 0 3 : Claude de Baissac, Lise de Baissac, Nicolas Bodington
11 DYER 19/20 août 1943 ACHILLE Hudson 1 1 : Peter Deman « Paul » [à vérifier] 10 : Marie-Thérèse Le Chêne, Tony Brooks, Robert Boiteux, Octave Simon, Joseph Marchand, Victor Gerson, Robert Benoist, Francis Basin, Raymonde Menessier, Jean-Louis de Ganay
12 MILLINER 17/18 sept. 1943 INDIGESTION Lysander 2 4 : Harry Peulevé, Yolande Beekman, Harry Despaigne, d’Erainger 6 : Benjamin Cowburn, John Goldsmith (en) , Rémy Clément, 2 agents polonais, y compris André Renan, Lecointre
13 PILOT 16/17 oct. 1943 BRONCHITE Lysander 1 2 : Rémy Clément, Arthur Watt 3 : Maurice Southgate, René Dumont-Guillemet
14 MATE 20/21 oct. 1943 ACHILLE Hudson 1 4 : Albert Browne-Bartroli, Joseph Marchand, Robert Benoist, Henri Zeller 4 : Henri Frager, Francis Nearne (en) ,
M. Leprince, A. Lévy [ 23 ] ?,
15 CONJURER 15/16 nov. 1943 ACHILLE Hudson 1 5 : Victor Gerson, Eugène Levene, Jean Menesson, Paul Pardi, André Maugenet, Henri Fille-Lambie 10 : Francis Cammaerts, François Mitterrand [ 24 ] , Pierre du Passage, Pierre Mulsant, M me Fontaine, John Barrett, Charles Rechenmann, 5 (?) aviateurs
16 KNACKER 4/5 fév. 1944 ACHILLE [ 25 ] Hudson 1 0 (plus Gerry Morel qui fait l'A-R) 9 [ 26 ] (plus Gerry Morel qui fait l'A-R) : Robert Benoist, Henri Borosh, Madeleine Lavigne, Le Barbu, Philippe Liewer, Limousin, Bob Maloubier, l’aubergiste à Tiercé et son mari
17 GROWER 8/9 fév. 1944 GRIPPE Lysander 1 2 : Jules Lesage, Alcide Beauregard 2 : Henri Déricourt, Jeanne Déricourt
Tot. 17 opérations 7 terrains 2 types :
23 vols AR [ 27 ] :
18 vols Lys.
+ 5 vols Hud.
43 personnes amenées en France 69 personnes emmenées en Angleterre [ 28 ]

Le tableau est à considérer comme la version « officielle » des vols organisés par Henri Déricourt. Or, plusieurs facteurs autorisent à penser que cette liste n'est pas définitive et mériterait d'être corrigée et complétée. En effet :

Noor Inayat Khan: why was the British spy such an unlikely war hero?

The first female radio operator to be sent underground in occupied Paris to aid the French Resistance during World War II was also the most unlikely person for job, writes Pat Kinsella. But who was Noor Inayat Khan, and how did she end up in this perilous position?

This competition is now closed

Published: August 28, 2020 at 12:55 pm

Once behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II, a covert radio operator’s life expectancy was measured in days. Weeks if they were really lucky. And that was if they had a face that easily blended in.

Noor Inayat Khan – a half-Indian, Russian-born Muslim, and the first woman dropped into France to perform this perilous duty – did not have such a visage. Nor, it seemed, did she possess many of the attributes or life experience most would consider necessary to participate in this most ruthless of roles, where deceit was demanded daily and the prospect of discovery and death was ever present.

On her father’s side, Khan hailed from Indian royalty. She was a descendant of Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, who famously put up a ferocious fight against the rapacious British Raj in the late 18th century. She was a strong believer in Indian independence, yet ended up fighting alongside the British against a common foe. Perhaps the bigger conflict was the one inside her soul.

This nervous, small-framed woman – a writer and author prior to the outbreak of war – was a devout pacifist in a world that had descended into a maelstrom of violence.

Some of those in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) who trained Noor expressed reservations about her suitability for such service. Yet once dropped into France she evaded capture for several months – even while the networks around her collapsed – sending valuable reports back to Britain. And after she was betrayed, and during all the horror that followed, she exhibited incredible loyalty and an extraordinary inner strength, which held resolute right until the awful end.

But what was she doing there in the first place? The backstory of Britain’s most unlikely war hero is every bit as bizarre as the conclusion is tragic.

Who is Noor Inayat Khan?

Born in Moscow on 1 January 1914, Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan was the eldest of four children. Her Indian father, Inayat, was a musician and spiritual teacher her mother an American from Albuquerque in New Mexico, who changed her name from Ora Ray Baker to Amina Begum after marriage. Shortly after Noor’s birth, the family left Russia and relocated to London. In 1920 they moved again, this time to France, settling just outside Paris in Suresnes.

Inayat died suddenly during a visit to India in 1927, leaving Amina grief stricken, and 13-year-old Noor took on responsibility for her sister and two brothers. She continued her education, studying child psychology at the Sorbonne and music at the École Normale de Musique, playing the piano and harp. She began writing children’s stories, had a book published, and worked as a journalist for magazines including Le Figaro.

When World War II erupted, the family fled back to Britain, travelling via Bordeaux to Falmouth in Cornwall. Heavily influenced by the teachings of her father (who brought Sufism to the West) and Gandhi’s policies of nonviolence, Noor was a committed pacifist. But – in a pact with her brother Vilayat – the siblings swore to fight Nazi oppression however they could, without directly killing anyone. He volunteered for minesweeping, while she would ultimately perform arguably the most dangerous of all wartime roles: a covert radio operator.

How did Noor Inayat Khan become a spy?

In November 1940, Noor joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and undertook one month’s training as a wireless operator in Harrogate, followed by a six-month stint in Edinburgh learning to be a wireless telegraphist and a seven-week Advanced Signals and Wireless course in Wiltshire.

Not one to lie about her beliefs, during her first interview for active commission, in August 1942, Noor stunned the board with the frankness with which she set out her political views. A passionate supporter of Indian independence, Noor stated that, while the war with Germany lasted, she would be loyal to the British Government and Crown, but once it had ended, she would likely reconsider her position and add her support to the fight for Indian independence.

Although her application was rejected, Noor’s fluency in French, technical ability as a wireless operator and willingness to take a more active role in secret work was noted, and she was duly recommended to the SOE’s F (French) Section. Its head of recruitment was the novelist Selwyn Jepson, who considered Noor perfect for ‘special employment’. Noor accepted the invitation immediately, donned the uniform of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (the SOE operative’s standard disguise) and began her training in February 1943.

Noor went through an intensive three-week crash course in crucial skills, including armed and unarmed combat, and cross-country navigation. Her fitness, aptitude for dangerous underground work and ability to withhold important information under duress were all assessed.

Initial reports weren’t encouraging. Noor seemed frightened of weapons, went to pieces while being questioned in a mock interrogation, and – despite her willingness to volunteer – appeared completely ill-prepared for what might follow. The head of the school commented that Noor hadn’t “the foggiest idea what the training was going to be about”, but did note that she developed a certain amount of confidence “from a shaky start”. Her mental agility was called into question.

Noor was determined, though, and put in extracurricular efforts. Still, she failed to qualify for parachute training, and instead attended SOE’s radio school at Thame Park in Oxfordshire, before learning how to operate underground at the SOE’s ‘agent finishing school’ at Beaulieu in Hampshire.

Doubts persisted, and several people – including one of her fellow trainees at Wanborough – vocalised their opposition to Noor’s involvement in delicate operations where multiple lives would be put at risk by an under-performing agent. But Maurice Buckmaster, head of F Section, brushed aside such concerns. Noor had the language and technical skills required. And besides, they were desperate. Under a disparaging comment about her intelligence in a written report, Buckmaster noted: “We don’t want them overburdened with brains.”

Listen: Professor Christopher Andrew explores the history of intelligence and espionage from ancient times until the present day

Late on 16 June 1943, two Lysander aircraft took off from RAF Tangmere in West Sussex. Aboard one was a very nervous Noor Inayat Khan. She and a number of other fresh recruits were met at a secret landing spot near Angers in northwest France by Henri Déricourt, a Frenchman working for SOE. Déricourt was later revealed as a double agent who leaked information to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the intelligence agency of the SS.

Using the nom de guerre ‘Madeleine’ and posing as a governess from Blois called Jeanne Marie Renier, Noor made her way to Paris alone. There she made contact with Emile Garry, head of the F-Section ‘network’ in Le Mans – networks, also known as circuits, being small cells of operatives charged with gathering information. She was subsequently introduced to Francis Suttill, who ran the larger PROSPER network, the tentacles of which spread across northern France, his wireless operator Gilbert Norman, and France Antelme, leader of the Paris-based BRICKLAYER network. From Norman’s radio hideout in Grignon, Noor transmitted her first message back to Britain, communicating her safe arrival.

But she wouldn’t be safe for long. On 24 June, Suttill, Norman and their courier Andrée Borrel were all arrested, and the SD began working its way through the ranks of the PROSPER network. As agents scattered and scurried to new safe houses, Noor tried and failed to rescue Norman’s wireless set from Grignon and was almost caught. She did, however, manage to arrange transport to London for Antelme in a Lysander. She refused to join him on the flight, choosing instead to stay and keep transmitting intelligence to her receivers. Noor quickly became isolated as other agents and wireless operators were arrested, left the city for the relative safety of the south, or disappeared altogether.

What did Noor Inayat Khan do in France?

Noor was now F-Section’s only eyes in Paris. Adding to the chaos, the Germans began transmitting fake messages from Norman’s captured wireless. Buckmaster sent one of his senior officers, Nicholas Bodington, to Paris to investigate, and when his own wireless operator was caught, Noor became even more important. She had to keep moving constantly, carrying her heavy wireless set in a suitcase around the city, dyeing her hair, wearing disguises, staying with pre-war friends (at great risk to all) and living by her wits.

Despite this, Noor wrote a letter to Buckmaster enthusing about her mission, which went back to Britain with Bodington when he was airlifted out of France in mid-August 1943 on a flight arranged by Déricourt. But her handlers knew she was exhausted, and Buckmaster was apparently making arrangements to extract Noor from Paris in mid-October. Sadly, her luck wouldn’t last that long. Déricourt had already photographed her letter to Buckmaster, along with other important communications, and had passed them on to the Germans. The net was quickly closing. Yet the sting, when it was finally felt, came from an unexpected source.

After evading arrest for four months, Noor’s capture was seemingly the result of a betrayal by Emile Garry’s sister, Renée, who was apparently motivated by petty jealousy (plus a reward of 100,000 francs). The source of the tip-off has never been proved (Renée was acquitted when accused of betrayal after the war), but two SD officers stated it had come from a French woman. Dates and details are muddied, but Noor was apprehended at a safe house on Rue de la Faisanderie, and taken to the SD’s headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch. Buckmaster learned of her arrest on 2 October, via a coded telegram sent by SOE agent Jacques Weil, who communicated that Madeleine had “had a serious accident” and was now “in hospital”.

After she attempted to escape through a bathroom window, the SD wasted no time in grilling Noor. Despite her poor performances during the mock questioning in her training, when it came to the real deal, Noor’s resistance was remarkable – even by the SD’s own admission – and Ernst Vogt, her interrogator, wasn’t able to extract any information at all. SD commandant Hans Kieffer later said that they “could never rely on anything she said”, and his wireless expert Josef Goetz confirmed that “Madeleine refused to give us any assistance whatsoever”.

Unfortunately, the SD had Noor’s wireless set and, much worse, the codebook in which she’d annotated previous messages. Carrying a written account of her communications has been described as extremely naive and irresponsible (although it has been speculated that Noor misinterpreted an instruction about being careful with filing messages as a command to keep a record of them). Either way, it gave Goetz access to valid code words and his wireless operators the ability to mimic Noor’s ‘fist’ (tapping style) so they could send false messages from her set. This campaign, codenamed DIANA, fooled Buckmaster into maintaining his operations. Seven agents, including Antelme, were subsequently caught and executed after being sent into traps set by the SD.

Radio games and double agents

Noor Inayat Khan has been criticised for keeping a written record of her communications, which was discovered after her arrest (along with her wireless set) and used by SD wireless expert Josef Goetz to wage a deadly war of misinformation. Goetz had his operators mimic Khan’s style and use secret code words to send messages back to Maurice Buckmaster, head of the Special Operations Executive’s (SOE) F Section, who thought they were coming from her. More agents were subsequently sent into France, where they were snared by the Gestapo.

Blame for this calamity does not rest with one person. Buckmaster and his intelligence officer, Vera Atkins, missed multiple clues that messages were not as they appeared. The biggest faultline in the whole SOE operation was the complex game being played by double (and possibly triple) agent Henri Déricourt, who was liaising with the SOE, MI6 and the SD all at the same time.

Déricourt was cleared of collusion during a 1948 trial, when evidence provided by senior SOE figure Nicholas Bodington suggested that Déricourt was taking orders from MI6 to mislead the Germans into thinking he was double-crossing SOE, thereby distracting them from the plans that were afoot for D-Day. While this got Déricourt off the hook, it does imply that some SOE
agents were regarded as dispensable by elements of British intelligence, some of whom were working against one another (either by fault or design), and questions remain over this whole episode.

How did Noor Inayat Khan die?

In November 1943, Noor attempted escape again, together with SOE agent John Starr and Léon Faye, a prominent member of MI6’s ALLIANCE intelligence network, who were being held in neighbouring cells. Having managed to procure a screwdriver, they each loosened the bars on their skylights and got out onto the roof. Unfortunately, the escape coincided with an RAF air raid, causing the guards to check the cells and discover the breakout. An incandescent Kieffer demanded their word that there would be no further attempts at escape Starr agreed but Noor and Faye’s refusal saw them both deported to Germany.

Put on a train within hours, Noor was taken to the prison in Pforzheim. She was placed in solitary confinement, with chains on her hands and feet, and fed meagre rations of potato peel or cabbage soup. Yolande Lagrave, a member of Faye’s intelligence network, was in a nearby cell, and later recounted overhearing Noor being regularly beaten. They managed to communicate by scratching on their mess tins Noor gave her name as Nora Baker – a name she had used during training. This torture continued for ten months, during which Noor refused to talk. Eventually she was moved to Karlsruhe by train, with three other female agents: her old training partner Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman and Madeleine Damerment. The latter was a victim of the radio game Goetz had been playing with Noor’s wireless set and codes.

The women were taken to Dachau concentration camp, and shortly after their arrival, all four were taken to the crematorium and executed by SS officer Friedrich Wilhelm Ruppert. An anonymous witness later told a Canadian intelligence officer that Noor had been singled out for ‘special treatment’ by Ruppert, who administered a near-fatal beating before shooting her with a pistol. She was just 30 years old.

In recognition of her bravery, Britain posthumously awarded Noor Inayat Khan the George Cross, while France honoured her with the Croix de Guerre. A statue commemorating this courageous woman now stands in Gordon Square, London, close to where she once lived – the first memorial in Britain dedicated to an Asian woman. It records the last word Noor is said to have uttered before her life was brought to an abrupt end: “Liberté!”

Pat Kinsella is a writer and editor specialising in history

Death and Legacy

Khan attempted escape once more, along with two other prisoners, on November 25, 1943. However, a British air raid led to their final capture. The air raid sirens triggered an unplanned check on the prisoners, which alerted the Germans to their escape. Khan was then taken to Germany and kept in solitary confinement for the next ten months.

Eventually, in 1944, Khan was transferred to Dachau, the concentration camp. She was executed on September 13, 1944. There are two differing accounts of her death. One, given by an SS officer who witnessed the execution, portrayed it very clinically: a death sentence pronounced, some sobbing, and the execution-style deaths. Another, given by a fellow prisoner who survived the camp, claimed that Khan was beaten before being executed, and that her final words were “Libertè!”

Posthumously, Khan was awarded multiple honors for her work and her bravery. In 1949, she was awarded the George Cross, the second-highest British honor for bravery, as well as the French Croix de Guerre with a silver star. Her story endured in popular culture, and in 2011, a campaign raised funds for a bronze bust of Khan in London, near her former home. Her legacy lives on as a groundbreaking heroine and as a spy who refused to abandon her post, even in the face of unprecedented demand and danger.

Watch the video: Chapter - Henri Déricourt, un agent triple français (December 2021).