Recognizing the Unlikely Hero - The Courage of Noor Inayat Khan


I'm a sucker for a good spy thriller, and stories of the second world war offer quite a few. This past week I read the biography of Noor Inayat Khan, which has also been made into a movie that looks to be well reviewed. Her unusual background, her unlikely reasons for joining the military in the first place, and her work British Intelligence made this a fascinating read. Stories such as hers put the difficulties we encounter working as Collegiate Gigsters in perspective.

In a way, it wasn't really her fight and having been raised as a pacifist, working in the French Underground during WWII was quite out of character, but Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, an Indian-Muslim and American child living a life of privilege in the capital cities of Europe, had many of the skills the British military were short on during the war. Living in England at the time, she joined the British Army with her brother in 1940. Being a pacifist, she strongly opposed the German war offensive but she would only serve in a position where she would not be asked to kill anyone. She eventually received a post in Occupied France under F-Section of the the Special Operations Executive, assisting the French Resistance as a wireless radio operator.

Working as a wireless radio operator was particularly dangerous  - a rather morbid statistic of the time was the the typical radio operator had a survival time of approximately six months. Khan had trained for three years for this mission, she spoke French fluently and being a petite and attractive female might be helpful in avoiding suspicion. She courageously performed her duties and faithfully helped the cause of the Resistance. Unfortunately, she was betrayed by a double-agent, arrested, sent to prison in Germany and eventually executed as a spy.

Despite being such an unlikely candidate for this mission, what fascinates me is that she consciously chose to take on these responsibilities and accept the risks. Even after being arrested and quite possibly tortured, then sent to hard labor and then solitary confinement before being executed, she never revealed anything to the SS and remained true to the cause until the end. A quiet and unlikely hero during a very dark time of our history.

The lesson here is that we can't always know which one of us end up being heroes. Sometimes it is the most unlikely person who ends up surprising everyone. There will be times when we are called to be that person ourselves, and there will be times when we are asked to hire, fire, promote, or demote someone like this. It takes someone with experience, intelligence, and and open mind to identify such a person, i.e. a Collegiate Gigster.



By Michael Koetsier

This blog post was previously published in The Gigster 'Zine, our free newsletter discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & strategies for anyone with a college degree.
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