It was after the publication of Spy Princess (2006), my biography of Noor Inayat Khan that I received a number of letters from readers thanking me for the book and suggesting that there should be a memorial for Noor in London.
One reader suggested the fourth plinth on Trafalgar Square, another offered to write letters to the Prime Minister. School teachers wrote to me that they were planning assemblies on Noor. In Manchester, a group of Year Six students brought out an illustrated booklet on Noor imagining the letters she may have written from her prison in Germany. Of course, Noor never had access to pen or paper in prison and could not write any letters. It was a poignant tribute to her from 11-year-olds.
I realised how much Noor’s story had touched ordinary people, especially the young. I felt it was all the more important to remember Noor’s message, her ideals and her courage in the troubled times we live in.
While there are Memorials for Noor in Paris and Dachau, there is no personal memorial for her in London, the city where she volunteered for the war effort and where she was recruited and trained for the most dangerous mission in her life.
Noor was one of only three women from the SOE to be awarded the George Cross, but while her colleagues from the SOE have blue plaques, memorials and museums in their honour, she has been forgotten.
In Paris there is a plaque outside her family home in Suresnes. A band plays outside her house every year on Bastille Day to remember her help for the French Resistance. A leafy square in Suresnes has been named Cours Madeleine after her (Noor’s code-name was Madeleine). There is a plaque in her honour in Dachau Concentration camp and another in Grignon where she made her first transmission. London had to catch up.
I wanted Noor’s memorial to be in Gordon Square, near the house where she lived on 4 Taviton Street. Noor used to often sit in her uniform on one of the benches in the Square and read a book on her days off. She would walk down to the British Museum and Library. As a child she played in Gordon Square with her siblings.
Initially I looked for support among Asian women. Over tea and cakes a signature campaign was started in June 2010. Eminent Asian women like Shami Chakrabarti, Gurinder Chadha, Nasreen Munni Kabir and others signed the petition. Newly elected Labour M.P, Valerie Vaz, tabled an Early Day Motion in parliament and
34 M.Ps signed the motion. In September 2010, the Vice Chancellor of the University of London generously gave us the permission to install a memorial for Noor in Gordon Square. Half the battle had been won.
Two years later, I am delighted that with your support we have brought Noor back to Gordon Square. Thank you for helping the next generation remember her story.