Last year, Noor Inayat Khan was suggested as the new face of the 50-pound note. She would be the first ethnic minority to ever have been considered for this in the UK.
‘Noor’ means light, and Noor Inayat was no short of being a beam of courage and bravery during the Second World War. Born to an Indian father and French mother, Noor was raised to be a pacifist under Sufi Islam. Yet she knew that during times of great injustice, one must try their utmost to liberate people from tyranny. She said, ‘Well, I must do something, but I don’t want to kill anyone.’ To which her brother Vilayat replied, ‘Well if we are going to join the war, we have to involve ourselves in the most dangerous positions, which would mean no killing.’ Thus in 1940, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and was trained to become a wireless operator. The average lifespan of a wireless operator was six weeks at most, and to make this difficult decision was not a small feat.
Noor faced many challenges during her time in training. Her previous education in psychology was vastly different from the field she ended up joining. She was described as ‘childlike’ and ‘clumsy’. Her fear of weapons made it no easier for her to train herself for the job. Yet her hard work and persistence kept her going, and she eventually ended up doing the work of six radio operators singlehandedly. Not only did her work enable important deliveries to reach to their stations on time, but it was vital for helping airmen to escape from Nazi territory.
Noor Inayat Khan’s ancestry links up with Tipu Sultan of Mysore, and she was an Indian princess by blood. Far from the extravagant lives that princesses live, Noor faced torture and imprisonment yet she never gave up as much as her real name to the Nazis. She was eventually executed just around the time the war was ending, and her grave was never found. A memorial statue of her is present at Gordon Square Gardens.
Apart from being an incredibly brave woman who stood for resistance against oppression, Noor is one of many people of color who fought for the British Armed Forces during the World Wars. While the events that took place during these wars are often remembered and repeated, the stories of these people are often forgotten. 2.5 million Indian soldiers fought for the British during the second world war, and thousands of them lost their lives. This number is not a small one when compared to the original British Army either; 2.9 million Europeans fought in the Second World War. Without the support of the 2.5 million Indian soldiers, it may have been very likely that Germany would’ve won WW2. The stories of these people deserve to be remembered and honored just as much. Without their support, the history of entire nations may have taken a completely different turn, and fascism may have become a stronger force than ever.