Hilltown Voices: Local artist to give presentation on British WWII heroine

  • A portrait of Noor Khan on horseback painted by Williamsburg artist Nan Hill. MEEKINS LIBRARY

For the Gazette
Published: 11/8/2019 4:05:31 PM

During World War II, the British employed a unique operative who was the first female radio operator to be sent into Nazi-occupied France by Britain’s Special Operations Executive, (SOE), a secret organization responsible for espionage and reconnaissance during wartime efforts.​​​​​​ Born to an American mother and an Indian father, Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan was a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, the 18th-century Muslim ruler of Mysore in South India — and to many known as The Princess Spy.

On Wednesday, Nov. 20, at Meekins Library, acclaimed Williamsburg artist Nan Hill, together with publisher and former UMass librarian Sandra Lillydahl, will offer the presentation “Destination: Dachau,” about Khan, her contributions to the war effort, and her eventual capture and murder at the Dachau concentration camp.

At the request of Khan’s family, Hill created a portrait in 2018 of the pioneering war hero, which now hangs in the Inayati Sufi Order’s North American headquarters in Richmond, Virginia.

Born in Moscow, Khan was raised in Britain and France. In 1940, her family escaped to England after the fall of France, and Khan joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force training to become a radio operator. In June of 1943, she returned to France, where she became the radio operator for the “Prosper” resistance network in Paris. Her codename: Madeleine. Here, she ran a group of spies through Paris, earning her another nickname, Enemy of the Reich.

While many British spies were being captured by the Germans, Khan refused to leave her post, remaining in France, and trying to send messages back to London while avoiding capture.

Eventually Khan was picked up by the Gestapo and sent to solitary confinement in Pforzheim prison. Despite repeated bouts of torture, Khan refused to give up any information to the Nazis.

In 1944, she and three other female SOE agents were taken to Dachau concentration camp, where they were shot that September. She was 30 years old.

For her courage, Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross in 1949. The George Cross is the second-highest award in the United Kingdom given “for acts of the greatest heroism or for most conspicuous courage in circumstance of extreme danger.”

This year is the 75th commemoration of Khan’s murder at Dachau.

In her presentation, Hill will discuss her research on Khan and describe the experience of creating the painting.

“At a point, while working on the portrait, I became nearly submerged in grief thinking about the loss of Noor and the immeasurable devastations of WWII,” she said in an artist statement about the portrait.

The event will begin at 7 p.m. For more information, call Meekins Library at 413-268-7472.

Hilltowners speak out against Roundup

ASHFIELD — On Nov. 12, over 40 residents from a variety of Hilltowns, including Cummington, Goshen and Plainfield, will join the Ashfield group PATH — People Against Toxic Herbicides — on a trip to the State House to voice their objections to the use of the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.

Multiple pesticide bills will be heard on Tuesday at a public hearing held by the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. These include: H.729, An Act relative to the prohibition of the transfer or use of glyphosate in the Commonwealth; H.763 An Act to protect Massachusetts pollinators; H.791 An Act relative to improving pesticide protections for Massachusetts schoolchildren; S.447/H.776 An Act empowering towns and cities to protect residents and the environment from harmful pesticides; and S.499 An Act relative to the use of glyphosate on public lands.

Organizer Delta Carney said PATH was formed after people heard about the use of Roundup around power lines in Ashfield and were concerned about the chemical’s effect on farmers and the broader environment.

“We have a lot of organic farmers here, and I thought, ‘No!’” Carney said.

“Those lines also go over and close to town wells and many creeks and brooks, and I thought, ‘No, this can’t happen!’”

Banned in some countries, in 2015 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Carney said that PATH is particularly interested in making sure that legislators have the most up to date scientific research on glyphosate and do not rely on “outdated studies produced by Monsanto,” the company that developed the product in the 1970s.

“It takes a village to take care of a village,” Carney said. “There are large groups coming from all across Massachusetts — we are just a spoke in the wheel.”

For more information about PATH, contact Delta Carney at delta0406@hotmail.com.

Plainfield Special Town Meeting

PLAINFIELD — A special Town Meeting will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at the Plainfield Town Hall at 7:30 p.m.

At the meeting, the town will ask voters to consider three warrant articles, including the approval to petition the General Court to allow Fire Chief David Alvord to continue his service as fire chief until the age of 72.

A second article will seek approval to transfer ownership of the town’s 1973 fire truck to the Plainfield Volunteer Firefighters Association, and a third financial housekeeping article will ask voters to approve payment of two invoices from FY19.

Ideas for this column on life in the Hilltowns can be sent to Fran Ryan at fryan.gazette@gmail.com.


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