Harrogate's link to real life WW2 heroine featured in best seller by ex-St Aidan's pupil

One of 39 heroines featured in a best-selling book depicting the real-life heroism behind-the-lines during the Second World War has a link to Harrogate.

Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 12:26 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 12:32 pm
Harrogate event - Bestselling author/historian and former St Aidan’s pupil Dr Kate Vigurs.

In Mission France: The True Story of the Women of the SOE, freelance historian and former St Aidan’s pupil Dr Kate Vigurs, tells the story of Noor Inayat Khan - the first female radio operator to be sent into occupied France during the conflict.

In 1940, after joining the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) she was posted to the spa town for training as a radio operator. Whilst she spent her first night at the Grand Hotel – now Windsor House on Cornwall Road – she was then billeted to Ashville College, which had been requisitioned by the Air Ministry in 1939.

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Part of the front cover of Mission France: The True Story of the Women of the SOE, freelance historian and former Harrogate pupil Dr Kate Vigurs.

After being arrested by the Gestapo, she escaped from prison but was recaptured shortly afterwards. She was killed at Dachau concentration camp in 1944. Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded a Croix de Guerre by the French and a George Medal, the highest honour that can be given to a civilian.

And ahead of appearing at Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, which is being held at Harrogate’s Crown Hotel from, Thursday, October 21 until Sunday, October 24, Dr Vigurs is hoping to unearth more information about her.

“Being a George Cross recipient and because of her ethnic diversity, Noor Inayat Khan is someone that people are focussing on a lot. The records I worked from are her SOE records, which don’t go not much details about her WAAF history. However, ahead of my talk, I’m going to try and get hold of her WAAF records.”

Another of her subjects is Vera Leigh, who was born in Leeds in 1903, orphaned, and brought up by a racehorse owner in Paris.

“I did my PHD in the University of Leeds which was on the same subject as the book.

When working as a performer at The Royal Armouries, I wanted a strong female character and remembered as a kid watching Wish me Luck, and wondered if it was real.

“I went to the Imperial War Museum, met an historian, and suddenly realised it was all real and that it would make a really good script. Now 20 years later, I’m a best-selling author!”

At her forthcoming appearance at the Crown Hotel, which coincidently was also taken over by the Air Ministry, Dr Vigurs will give an introduction about what SOE was, why they decided to use women in F-Section in occupied France, and then introduce a number of these women to the audience.

“The reason why there are 39 women in the book is because we know 39 worked in F-Section in France.

“There were six sections working in France, but F-Section is the perhaps the famous because of the George Crosses and the films and books that came out after the war.”

Earlier this year, Noor Inayat Khan was honoured with a blue plaque which was unveiled at the London address, which was her family home and where she lived until 1943.

Information about this year’s Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, and the visiting guest writers, can be found on Harrogate International Festivals’ website, found at: https://harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/raworths-literature-festival/